A teenage cartoonist rejects the comforts of his suburban life and leaves home, finding an unwilling teacher and unwitting friend in Wallace, a former low-level comic artist.
Owen Kilnes’ directorial debut Funny Pages is a grubby movie that has its comedy within the oddness of its environments, situations and characters. No more so than the satirically dark depictions of the film’s everyday characters, drawn by real life comic book artist Johnny Ryan.
Daniel Zolghadri plays Richard, a 17 year old aspiring cartoonist, who is exceedingly talented but never gets the attention towards his work he so clearly desires. It’s an unglamorous coming of age film that doesn’t have a clear journey set out for our main character. What we do get is a critical moment in Richard’s life where his talent is constantly grappling with his recklessness. Surrounding him are a cluster of nerdy and disorderly characters in equal measure. Richard seeks independence for his craft and goes against everything his middle class parents ask of him. In this sense he’s living up to the rebellious teenager type and can always lean back into family support but this is not the way an underground cartoonist works! His Cartoon mentor Mr Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis) was really the only person who critiqued and believed in Richard’s work. When he shockingly dies early in the film it seems to work as the catalyst for Richard to find his own way within his life and drawing, something Mr Katano would have motivated him to do.
The kind of characters we get fit the aesthetic that Kline is going for, there is a sweaty, crisp packet of a feel to the film. No more so than Barry (Michael Townsend) who offers Richard a room, the least desirable apartment you’re likely to see where light is never seen and the heater is constantly on with the boiler clunking away. Richard is unperturbed, because in his eyes he is paying his way as a grown man now and can concentrate on his craft, even if he is being stared at by Steven (Cleveland Thomas Jr) , his strangely silent roommate. The scenes within Richard’s apartment are hilarious because of their no judgements, no questions asked kind of comedy whilst the audience will be wondering just how weird will this get?
He has a tag along best Mate called Miles (Miles Emanuel) who constantly seeks validation for his own work, something that Richard believes he’s ripping off another comic called The Tales of Beanworld. There is a sense of superiority that Richard exudes which keeps Miles frustrated in his mild mannered way. Miles occasionally comes into scenes here and there but is generally underused. It’s the odd and unhealthy help Richard seeks from the distrubed mind of Wallace, a middle aged, former Cartoon colourist of apparently high regard that takes over the loose storyline. Richard will do anything to tap into the genius he see’s within Wallace, who’s priorities firmly lie elsewhere.
Whilst there are moments of real clarity in the comedy, it was not placed consistently enough throughout leaving some scenes feeling flat and underwhelming. With this being said, there is clearly a good time to be had with these characters, and in general the writing is witty and well realised for the mood of the film. Kline nails the retro look, which can be felt within its grainy image and on point production design. It’s a film that easily looks like it could have been made in the 80s or 90s and you felt at ease with that, there was nothing that was out of place or overdone, from the old computer software to the retro nike sweaters.
This is a promising debut from Kline, who should be a director to look out for, even if he is slightly unsure of his own next steps having said “I basically just want to disappear and make another movie under a rock”. This film was an accompaniment to Kline’s own self and life, as a comic book enthusiast he was right at home with the material and style, so it would be interesting to see where he ventures next.