One of the best parts of the Melbourne International Film Festival is seeing the first works from exciting new filmmakers, and this has never been truer than with Owen Kline's slimy but sublime debut film, 'Funny Pages'. In fact, it's the highlight of this year's festival so far.
After a traumatic event in the film's opening moments, 17-year-old Robert (Daniel Zolghadri, 'Low Tide') is in a tailspin. His freedom and desire to flourish as a comic cartoonist are being smothered by the loving care of his parents (Maria Dizzia, 'The Outside Story', and Josh Pais, 'Joker') and their expectation for Robert to attend college. Using the perspective-altering tragedy as a vehicle to make major moves in his life, Robert proudly announces that he will be dropping out of school early and moving out to pursue his career, much to the dismay of his parents. The problem is, Robert's comfy middle-class upbringing has not equipped him for the harsh realities of real life, and striking out on his own becomes a far more difficult venture than he could have ever imagined.
'FUNNY PAGES' TRAILER
As the son of Hollywood heavyweight Kevin Kline ('The Bob's Burger Movie'), Owen Kline has grown up around cameras, most notably starring in Noah Baumbach's 'The Squid and the Whale'. His first foray behind the camera is bolstered by producers Benny and Josh Safdie ('Uncut Gems') and cinematographer Sean Price Williams ('Zeroes and Ones') – the kind of crew many filmmakers can only dream of. A brief peek into Kline's upbringing as an aspiring cartoonist from a wealthy background blurs the line on just how much of 'Funny Pages' is autobiographical, but what is clear is that Robert is the antagonist in his own story. Every choice he makes, from lodging in perhaps the most disgusting apartment ever seen on film to his obsession with Wallace (Matthew Maher, TV's 'Our Flag Means Death'), an ex-colourist for Robert's favourite graphic novels, inadvertently impedes his road to success, and our ability to sympathise with or even like him. He is rude to his parents and his only friend (played hilariously by Miles Emanuel), prone to tantrums when he doesn't get his way, and cares about nothing but his drawing. Kline comically mirrors and criticises the industry leg-up that he has for his very first film in Robert's insistence that success will just come to him, rather than needing to actually work for it. It's a fascinating dissection of youth, ambition and pride typically only found in wealthy, adolescent men, who even after literally getting the shit beat out of them still don't seem to learn their lesson.
Every choice he makes inadvertently impedes his road to success, and our ability to sympathise with or even like him.
While its brand of gross-out humour and slight ending won't tickle the funny bones of all audiences, 'Funny Pages' is one of the most refreshingly comical (pun unintended) and authentic coming-of-age films of the last few years. He may have the support of esteemed filmmakers behind him, but Owen Kline proves himself to be a talent completely on his own merits.