|Index||6 reviews in total|
This bubble-light romantic comedy is worth seeking out. Tony Halein his first leading role I thinkplays Stefan, a typical lovelorn Hollywood movie type who will do anything for the girl, eh-em, woman of his dreams to fall in love with him. Or at least notice him more. In this case, Stefan has overheard Hayley (Brigid Brannagh) stating she just wants a man that can make her laugh. Stefan knows he is not funny, so he seeks advice from friends, the Internet, and even stalks a comic. What makes Not That Funny workand so enjoyableis it smartly stays away from the traps of most romantic comedies. For example, Stefan learns a joke we know is not going to work. We don't get the obligatory scene where it falls flat and a lesson is learned. In fact, there's a lot obligatory trappings of the modern romantic comedy that are not seen or dwelled on in Not that Funny. Thanks goes to writer-director Lauralee Farrer and co-writer Jonathan Foster. The scriptlike the main character is smart and likable, earnest and fair. It does a wonderful job in showcasing some character actors you've seen before and allows Hale still best known as Buster on Arrested Developmenta rare chance to showcase a grounded hero you'd invite over for dinner. Despite a paper- thin budget, Farrer and cinematographer Brandon Lippard deliver a beautiful looking valentine to the town of Sierra Madre (near Pasadena) and a remarkable house that is so functional it becomes another character.
In general, I am a fan of Tony Hale. But in Not That Funny, Hale allows audiences to catch a glimpse of the sincerity that often resides just under the surface of his more comedic offerings. Of course, much of the credit goes here to the film's writers and director. The film has just the right amount of quirkiness, which allows it to remain a romantic comedy without succumbing to tired conventions. In other words, it represents everything I love about independent film done well. Without any hint of condescension or pretension, Not That Funny offers an unassuming and quietly subversive take on love, relationships, and life. Definitely worth seeing.
I saw Not That Funny at Newport Beach Film Festival and thought it was the best film of the fest. Brigid Brannagh is lovely as a daughter returning home to her grandmother's house in a small California town. Tony Hale is awkward and entertaining as the man who thinks he has to make her laugh to win her heart. Watch for a fun turn from comedian Nick Thune as the man who tries to help Hale learn comedy. I loved the depiction of the little town and the people who can see Hale's character for the man he really is, especially the relationship between Hale and his friend Kevork, played by John Kapelos. The film is full of little details that feel authentic to the world and town is charming. I'm looking forward to seeing future films from co-writer/director Lauralee Farrer. Check out this film if you get a chance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's not that I dislike romantic comedies. It's that I dislike lazy
romantic comedies, just as I dislike any lazy film that seeks to take
our entertainment dollars with a marque name, recycled tropes, and big,
unrealistic scenarios. And this is as much of a spoiler as you're going
to get: Not That Funny acknowledges all the predictable tropes we come
to expect from those movies, then dismisses them for the bullshit they
Not That Funny is anything but lazy. It is infused with a genuine warmth, that comes from deft writing, good people, and intimate, quiet camera-work. So many times the camera lingered over little details, setting the tone for the movie and for the town of Sierra Madre where it was filmed.
This movie takes the somewhat daring position that not only is trying to change yourself for someone else an exercise in futility, but also that we all already accept that. It doesn't insult our intelligence by going over the top, or having our hero become someone radically different, alienate everyone, then realize the error of his ways in a dramatic (and humiliating) third-act turn. We've all seen THAT movie. We've seen it a hundred times. Instead, Not That Funny does the hard work of crafting characters who shine from within, whose warmth shows through so that we identify with them, love them, and want them to be happy.
If you're looking for big laughs, this is not the movie for you. In that, the title is correct. I smiled often. I even laughed a few times. But it's not that movie.
If you want to see a genuine, touching, and sweet movie about kind people realizing that they are worthy of love, you need to see this movie. And if you can rustle one up, take a date with you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What do Adam Sandler, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tony Hale, and Lauralee
Farrer all have in common?
They all can be not that funny, and that just might be a good thing.
Lauralee Farrer's film Not That Funny is a romantic comedy on the edge of the genre (the film's Facebook page calls it a "Dramatic Comedy"). It pushes the boundaries of other, stereotypical romantic comedies in ways that remind me of how Paul Thomas Anderson similarly pushed the boundaries of the genre with his film Punch-Drunk Love. Both films star a notoriously wacky comedic actor - Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love and Tony Hale in Not That Funny. The titles of both films also cause us to reconsider our notions about what a romantic comedy should be. "Punch-drunk" seems like an extremely awkward adjective to attach to the word "love," and - in the case of Not That Funny - what romantic comedy would give itself a title subverting the very idea that anything comedic is contained within? Yet it is within this dichotomy that the power of these films resides.
Even though neither film has quite the stereotypical level of hilarity (or, for that matter, cheesy romance) characteristic of other films in the genre, there is a very real quality to the stories they tell. In Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan is not the charming, heroic, funny man so frequently seen in romantic comedies. Yet he still finds a way to woo Lena, the woman he falls in love with. The story, while not without its hardships, still ends on a relatively positive, Hollywood-esque ending (Barry and Lena finally kiss as the music swells, and all is right in their world). A romantic kiss at the end of the movie was not something included in Not That Funny, a move which I thought served its story very well. Paul Thomas Anderson still could not resist that feel-good moment to tie everything up neatly at the end of his film, but Lauralee Farrer specifically chose not to include such a moment in her film. I feel that this was a brilliant choice for the story she was trying to tell. Real life cannot always be wrapped up in a bow-tie with a perfect "Hollwood" ending. There are still uncertainties and things left unresolved; that is the nature of life.
In Not That Funny, Stefan Lane, like Barry Egan, is also a pretty ordinary guy. He is self- admittedly not very funny, a trait which proves to be painfully ironic when he overhears that Hayley, the woman he desires, is looking for a man who can make her laugh. With that discovery, the film's plot is set. Stefan begins to try everything he and his friend Kevork can think of to turn him into a funny guy. In the process, we see some of the most hilarious moments of this film. (At the screening I attended, the audience groaned loudly as Stefan's horrible sense of timing and tact caused him to tell an awful, distasteful joke at a most inopportune time. When he finally did tell it and it fell flat, it was one of the most reactive moments for the audience.) With the help of the crude comedian he was trying to emulate, Stefan ultimately comes to the liberating revelation that he really is just not a funny guy - and that is okay. Once he stops trying to be something that he was not and starts trying to be himself, we see the true start of the eventual blossoming of his relationship with Hayley. She has moved back to his small town of Sierra Madre (in which Not That Funny was filmed), and the prospect of a loving relationship looms brightly on the horizon as the two of them begin to brighten up their backyard with bright string lights.
I want to be clear that I am by no means suggesting that Punch-Drunk Love and Not That Funny are trying to communicate the same message. But I do find it fascinating how both films, with their occasional similarities, have each played with the genre of romantic comedies in such a way as to get viewers to reevaluate their own understandings of love and identity. I hope that other filmmakers will continue to be bold enough to move in a similar direction more often.
Because maybe, just maybe, being not that funny on occasion is a good thing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Disclaimer: The writer/director of this film, Lauralee Farrer, is a
good friend of mine as are many of the other members of the crew. Of
course, part of the reason I'm friends with her (and them) is because
she is so thoughtful in her life and art, so I do not believe that our
friendship invalidates what I'm about to write.)
A few weeks ago, in composing a capsule reaction to It Happened One Night, I lamented the apparent inability of modern filmmakers to do something interesting with the romantic comedy genre. Last night, upon reflecting on this film (my second viewing), I realized I had been unjust.
Not That Funny probably doesn't pass the Bechdel Test. While there are two women in the film, and while they do spend a lot of time talking to one another, I think they only talk about men - grandfathers, fathers, and current and future flames. There may be a conversation or two in there about both identity and future care (thus is the nature of the narrative), but even in those conversations, men feature prominently. On the other hand, the men in the film only talk about women as well - lost loves, surrogate grandmothers, and current and future flames.
But this is a romantic comedy, and those kind of conversations are what the genre is all about. I'm not sure its fair to apply the Bechdel Test to a movie about women and men trying to figure each other out. To me, this reveals the limits of both the Bechdel Test and categorical feminist film criticism. Put simply, both are content to laud films which are merely non-destructive. I think it's a tragic testament to most films that "non-destructive" is worth praise. However, Not That Funny proves that a greater critique is possible. A filmmaker can provide constructive criticism.
Not That Funny is a film that attempts to redefine what all of us (not just women) ought to value in men. Men who are vain, mean, arrogant, fake, who do things to increase their status instead of to truly help others, are lambasted. The effect of their unfaithfulness (to all people in a community, not just to the woman they're sleeping with) is revealed in all its harmfulness. Instead, the film values sincerity and selflessness, humility and compassion, steadiness and communal fidelity.
Furthermore, the female lead's arc resolves not in finding her identity in the lead male but rather in a burgeoning awareness of the value of sincerity, selflessness, humility, compassion, steadiness, and communal fidelity. She begins to fall in love with the lead male, because he too has learned to value those things.
Not That Funny is a sweet film that manages to be sentimental without being fake - clover honey, not aspartame. Its sweetness enhances our ability to appreciate what's truly good in the world. It doesn't overwhelm our tastebuds and make us dissatisfied with real life. It's the kind of romantic comedy the world needs.
(The film is also a chance to see how great Tony Hale can be in a more subdued role. He is far from Buster Bluth here. Your raised eyebrows at the idea of Tony Hale as a romantic lead is further proof of how messed up our ideas of romance are.)
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