If you’ve never seen Zack Galifanakis’ original Funny or Die series, I cannot recommend it enough. Galifanakis interviews a variety of celebrities quite literally between two ferns, but the celebrities range from A-Listers to absolute superstars. Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, and even President Barack Obama have been awkwardly interviewed by Galifanakis and they frequently tread the line between hilarious and straight-up uncomfortable.
After nearly 3 years without a new Between Two Ferns episode, Galifanakis teamed up with Netflix to make this, a mockumentary-style film about the making of Between Two Ferns starring Galifanakis playing an overexaggerated version of himself. Will Ferrell, as the original founder of Funny or Die, is obsessed with the trillions of clicks his site gets, and tasks Galifanakis to make 10 new episodes in 2 weeks or his show it is cancelled forever.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie is a film that absolutely will not work for you if you aren’t a fan of Galifanakis’ schtick. After he propelled himself to superstardom in his hilarious supporting turn in 2009’s The Hangover, Galifanakis was stuck playing the same type of role as the slightly overweight, bumbling baffoon and continued to play that role for years; nothing has changed here. In the very first scene, he falls catastrophically off his chair and slips over multiple times. He sells physical comedy very well, but it’s what you expect from Galifanakis. If that works for you, like it mostly does for me, then you’ll have a great time. If not, maybe it’s best to steer clear.
In a brisk 82-minute runtime, Galifanakis and his supporting crew, which includes a very funny Carol Hunch, played by Orange is the new Black alum Lauren Lupkus, travel across the country to interview all sorts of celebrities. These interviews, which are effectively short snippets of Between Two Ferns episodes, are the highlight of the film, and often feel even funnier than previous interviews. My personal favourite was his interview with Chance The Rapper, but all of them have hilarious moments. Whether he’s interviewing Jon Hamm, Brie Larson, Tessa Thompson, or Matthew McConaughey, Galifanakis excels at the awkwardness of these interviews. He poses questions that start out relatively normal but then switch at the drop of a hat (“Of all the things you can win an Oscar for, how surprised are you that you won one for acting?”). How he and his interviewee keep a straight face during these extended periods of uncomfortable hilarity is a mystery to me, but the end credits blooper reel shows that they rarely kept a straight face anyway.
Where the film stumbles is getting to and from these interviews. The film tries to create some faux tension between its main cast by giving them financial difficulties and falling out due to some of them simply not liking each other, but the extremely short runtime doesn’t allow the relationships to develop well enough for their fall out and eventual reconciliation. On a more positive note, the relationship between Galifanakis and his personal assistant, Carol, does work because the two of them have some effortless chemistry that the film taps into time and time again. Carol is a worker who takes her job seriously and understands that Galifanakis simply needs guidance, and she will do whatever he needs her to do in order to keep him on track.
In all, Between Two Ferns: The Movie is a very gentle comedy. It doesn’t do anything risqué in order to achieve its goals, all it does is very wisely rely on the genuine hilarity of the interviews themselves to sell the film. How they get there doesn’t really matter. If you’re watching the film, you’re looking forward to his interview with Paul Rudd or David Letterman or Benedict Cumberbatch more than the planning and travel behind it. Mercifully, it doesn’t beat around the bush, and it gets you to the interviews quickly.
Does it need to exist as a film? Would it not have been more successful if it were simply a new series of interviews? I’ll leave that up to you, but I found it very enjoyable start to finish, and would recommend this if you’re looking for a light, breezy comedy.
My Rating: ★★★
Directed by: Scott Aukerman
Written by: Scott Aukerman, Zach Galifianakis
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Lauren Lupkus, Matthew, McConaughey, Tessa Thompson, Jon Hamm, Brie Larson