Being transported into the pages of a comic isn’t really a rarity at the cinema anymore, and even though it might have a fraction of the budget of the next Marvel film, Owen Kline’s Funny Pages is another to add to the conveyor belt. But there are no capes here, instead, there’s an excruciating, frantic and very funny story about an arrogant teenage cartoonist caught in an infinite saga of horrendous decisions.
Robert, who rattles with brash adolescence courtesy of Daniel Zolghadri (Eighth Grade), begins the film sitting attentively for an initially tender, quickly outrageous, certainly exploitative life-drawing class that leads to his tutor’s demise. A fan of outsider, gross-out comic strips (there are more phallus sketches here than in Superbad), Robert soon accelerates into a life of squalor and danger, pursuing the pain that his late mentor and idols shared, in the hopes of crafting his own artistic voice out of the trauma.
It's up there with the year's best comic book movies.
With its feverish momentum, claustrophobic framing and clammy atmosphere, it’s no surprise to see Benny and Josh Safdie’s names scrawled on the credits (they are producers). Their films Daddy Longlegs, Good Time and recent hit Uncut Gems all follow chaotic men spiralling towards combustion, and although perhaps slightly more innocent, Robert easily fits in with their family of frenetic schemers.
Robert’s absurd cartoonist’s worldview is a constantly surprising, constantly uncomfortable place to observe. His apartment is a lurid, sticky den of non-stop central heating, deplorable roommates and cannibal fish that will leave viewers reaching for the anti-bac. Around him are characters that seem printed straight from his beloved comics; their wild curls, oily comb overs and wide, bouncing eyes matching his caricatured drawing style. Although memorable, this commitment to a throwaway comic strip feel does mean scenes occasionally lack connection: as the page is turned quickly on one sketch, another begins and any sense of connection is torn away with it.
Obsessed by his practice, and any authority figure who can help no matter how unhinged they might be, Robert’s tortured-artist routine eventually brings him to his glossy, middle class home, and back to another disastrous art lesson. It’s a cycle of sweat, ink and inexcusable, compelling pretentiousness – and up there with the year’s best comic book movies.