Basically: This lesser spiritual sequel to Comic Book Confidential or American Splendor is the story of a flawed group of independent small press cartoonists.
Man, I wish I liked this film but it really turned me off. I’ve dabbled a bit in the comic book industry, from the mainstream to the indie and small press scenes. Funny Pages, in its way, tries to tell some type of coming-of-age story in its comic book/cartoonist world. Daniel Zolghadri plays Robert, a high school student who loves art. He’s a budding cartoonist with a close relationship with his art teacher Mr. Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis). After something tragic happens to Mr. Katano, this spurs Robert to go for his dreams as a cartoonist and as an adult. His misguided plans push him to leave school, move out of his parent’s house, and move into a shady, crappy apartment with some middle-aged men in Trenton, New Jersey. Now Robert is looking for a new mentor and for someone to give guidance on how to get better at making comics. This journey brings him into contact with a man named Wallace, who was a color separator at Image Comics in the 90s.
Now that this overview is done, it’s hard to connect to these characters, especially Robert and his choices. Many of his motivations aren’t clear, and while his likability isn’t needed, it sometimes feels like his drive wasn’t as important to show as the terribly stereotypical clichés of young men who love and make comics and the world of indie comics. Funny Pages, at times, feels like a bad photocopy of a photocopy of what one might think R. Crumb was like as a teen. Funny Pages then tries to add in an argument about art for art’s sake, no matter how “good” it might be, versus the folks who care about the craft and take it seriously. This idea, while good, is thrown out of the window by having a disturbed middle-aged man taking one side and a poorly-rounded best friend character spouting about the “soul.” That conflict comes at a point where the point of the film gets lost and mixes its themes with a hyper awkward, bad situation at the climax.
This all feels off. That might be because I’m too close to the world being portrayed. However, I have my issues with the scene, and there are some observations I think the film was trying to make but chose to go left of. Funny Pages, for me, feels like a mumblecore/indie film version of The Big Bang Theory, and that’s not a compliment. I wish I could say I enjoyed this film or thought it was good and just not my thing, but I feel it’s an undone and unclear idea that got made purely for a few inspired small press comics visual gags. After a strong year, this might be the weakest and worst A24 film I’ve in 2022 so far.
In the End: Funny Pages has a title that is misleading as it’s not funny or even entertaining and doesn’t portray anything about cartoonists well.