Director – Owen Kline – 2022 – US – Cert. US-R – 86m
A young, New Jersey comic book artist wannabe’s life becomes increasingly surreal when he leaves school and home to realise his desired career – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 16th
Guided by his art teacher Mr. Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis), New Jersey high school student Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) is developing his voice as a comic artist, constantly comparing notes with fellow student / aspiring comic artist Miles (Miles Emanuel). Following Mr. Katano’s tragic and untimely death, Robert finds himself in court following his breaking and entering Katano’s classroom in an attempt to rescue as much of the man’s artwork as he can salvage before its otherwise inevitable, imminent destruction.
He alienates his middle class father Lewis (Josh Pais) by rejecting the offer of a lawyer friend to be his counsel, instead getting a state defendant Cheryl (Marcia DeBonis) who successfully gets the case dismissed. He gets on well with Cheryl and after the case is over, goes to work for her as an assistant.
Responding to an accommodation advert, Robert rents half a bedroom from Barry (Michael Townsend Wright), who lives in the sleazy basement of a well-to-do house in Trenton, sharing the room with established occupant Steven (Cleveland Thomas Jr.). It’s not particularly pleasant, but it gets him away from his parents’ home.
Through his work making notes on Cheryl’s clients’ conversations with her, which he enjoys, he runs across defendant Wallace (Matthew Maher) who is up for an assault charge on a pharmacist. On discovering that some ten years ago Wallace worked at the legendary Image Comics as a colour separator,
Robert becomes starstruck and determines to get Wallace to teach him. As Robert gets to know Wallace, it becomes increasingly obvious that Wallace is unstable, but Robert refuses to admit this to himself, instead promising Wallace money for one-to-one tuition and inviting him to his parents’ home for Christmas. From there, things go from bad to worse.
From its opening with Robert studying sexually explicit adult comics and discussing them with Mr. Katano, who unconvincingly extols their graphic excess as subversive, through a sudden and brutal car crash, the burglary episode and Robert’s run in with both parental and scholastic authority, this never pulls its punches. All the characters are nicely sketched with the feeling that many of the scenes have been developed through improvisation on the fly. The cinematography is very rough and ready, but then that’s all the story needs.
You really get a feel for such characters as the determined but geeky Robert himself, his acne-ridden best mate, the lawyer Cheryl and the clearly deranged Wallace. It also functions as a glimpse into the soul of an artist trying to dissociate himself from his high school past so as to make something of himself in his chosen career in the future as well as an all too believable, cautionary tale. Well worth seeing if you have an interest in comics, artists and what makes them tick.
Funny Pages is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, September 16th.