By: Trevor Chartrand
Contrary to its title, Funny Story isn’t so much a funny story as it is a cringe-inducing series of awkward, and uncomfortable escalating situations.
The film is about the relationship between Nic (Jana Winternitz) and her distant father Walter (Matthew Glave), who have been estranged for some time. On his way to reconnect with Nic, Walter hooks up with his daughter’s friend Kim (Emily Bett Rickards) – only to discover later that Kim is not just a friend, but his daughter’s fiancé. In the awkwardness that follows, Walter struggles with a moral dilemma: telling the truth could save Nic from a cheating wife, but it would also devastate her and compromise his already fragile relationship with his daughter.
Writer/Director Michael J. Gallagher and co-writer Steve Greene (both previously collaborated on YouTube’s The Thinning franchise) have done an incredible job with the script for this film. The characters are realistically selfish and bold, without ever becoming unlikable. The narrative is structured in a careful and precise way, with each new reveal and story beat burying the characters in more and more guilt; viewers will feel their regret for the mistakes they’ve made. The dialogue is quick and witty, and makes for an enjoyable film overall.
This dialogue is also enhanced by strong performances. Playing a washed-up actor, Matthew Glave portrays the confident and carefree Walter with a playful arrogance. While the character is self-serving, Glave’s delivery and timing of the clever dialogue keeps him redeemable. Most notably, Emily Bett Rickards is given a lot to work to do without as many words to say. Her turmoil is more inward, as a troubled young woman who doesn’t understand herself or her actions. Rickards is able to convey her sorrows with the slightest of looks, showcasing a talented actress who truly understands her character. Jana Winternitz as Walter’s daughter Nic also gives a pleasantly nuanced performance, with a hidden disappointment in her father bubbling beneath her surface.
Set in a sort-of hippie commune in the California wilderness, Funny Story is beautifully shot and captures the landscape quite effectively. It’s not something that gets a lot of consideration in this type of dramatic film, but the filmmakers were clearly passionate about the space and made it look as good as possible. The direction is fairly standard otherwise, with the actor’s performances dictating the pace of each scene.
The only issue I had with this movie was some of the character introductions early on – for a while, it was unclear who anyone was in relation to each other. Looking back this is most likely intentional, but it did make the film temporarily confusing. We meet Kim at her mother’s funeral, shortly after Walter discovers his current girlfriend is pregnant. For a long time, I suspected Kim was Walter’s daughter, and we had just flashed-forward twenty years. The reality, of course, is that no time had passed and Nic is his daughter from another marriage. If the connection between each character were established more clearly, those early scenes may have been easier to process.
It’s interesting to ponder the morality of each character and the decisions they make in the film. Was Walter wrong for fooling around with his daughter’s friend? In his defense, he didn’t even know Nic was gay, let alone that this was her fiancé. And in that case, how culpable is Kim – knowingly sleeping with her fiancé’s father? What was she thinking? I still find myself pondering the morality of each character, and considering if any of them were justified in their actions. The social grey areas depicted in this film will leave viewers with plenty to discuss, which speaks to the strength of the themes being explored.
Overall though, Funny Story is a well-crafted drama with a strong premise, great direction and an excellent cast. With characters packed into a small resort for three days, this ever-escalating drama ensures audiences will feel the uncomfortable, claustrophobic guilt on screen, in the most fun and awkward ways imaginable.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor