Funny Pages (2022)

86 min. Director: Owen Kline. Cast: Stephen Adly Guirgis, Maria Dizzia, Josh Pais, Ron Rifkin, Matthew Maher, Louise Lasser, Daniel Zolghadri, Andy Milonakis, Miles Emanuel.


To paraphrase Groucho Marx, Owen Kline's Funny Pages is the kind of movie that wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have it as a member. It doesn't care that you find it rough around the edges, unless you get that very deliberate choice. The picture's "soul" (soul being the key point of contention in the story) is kindred to the anarchic underground comics its characters worship and long to create. Expect the tone and deliberately grotty aesthetic of those underground comics; think American Splendor with a side order of Clerks.

Written, directed and edited by Owen Kline (once the child actor of The Squid and the Whale), Funny Pages sketches a subjective urban adventure/grotesquerie from the slightly cockeyed point of view of an 18-year-old cartoonist (Daniel Zolghadri of Eighth Grade: well cast) taking his first independent steps into adulthood. Young Robert chafes against his parents (Josh Pais and Maria Dizzia), opting instead for the dubious mentorship of his art teacher (the playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis).

Setting out on his own, but still hungry for art-world approval, Robert hangs on to his job at a comic book shop and finds new employment at the Trenton, NJ public defender’s office. Immediately, he begins racking up the kind of idiosyncratic life experiences he needs to fuel his art. You don’t want to know what $350 gets you for a living situation in New Jersey in the world of this movie, but it's definitely well outside of the creature comforts his parents fear he will forever forfeit.

Though given a cartoon treatment, Funny Pages tells the story of a plausibly ambitious but plausibly reckless young artist who gets himself into plausibly awkward and even plausibly dangerous situations (okay, one situation stretches that plausibility, but I'll let you guess which one I mean). Sean O’Hagen delivers an endearing Brian Wilson pastiche score; Ron Rifkin and Louise Lasser pop in; and Kline earns bonus points for making good use of The Nutty Squirrel’s “Uh! Oh!"

Appropriately for a film about an 18-year-old, Funny Pages invites optimism and discomfort into a cold embrace. When a friend expresses skepticism about people remaining reachable at their home addresses for twenty years, Robert replies, “I hope there’s a postal service in twenty years.” With that in mind, Robert's go-for-broke abandon doesn't seem so reckless after all. It's an "Uh! Oh!" world for a squirrel just trying to get a nut—or make some art.