A film review by Craig J. Koban October 3, 2019

BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE jjj

2019, No MPAA Rating, 82 mins.

 

Zach Galifianakis as Himself  /  Will Ferrell as Himself  /  Lauren Lapkus as Carol  /  Ryan Gaul as Cam  /  Jiavani Linayao as Boom Boom  /  Benedict Cumberbatch as Himself  /  Brie Larson as Herself  /  Matthew McConaughey as Himself  /  Peter Dinklage as Himself  /  Paul Rudd as Himself  /  Tiffany Haddish as Herself  /  Keanu Reeves as Himself  /  Jon Hamm as Himself  /  Jason Schwartzman as Himself  /  Adam Scott as Himself  /  John Cho as Himself  /  Chance the Rapper as Himself  /  Rashida Jones as Herself  /  Hailee Steinfeld as Herself  /  John Legend as Himself  /  Chrissy Teigen as Herself  /  Tessa Thompson as Herself

Written and directed by Scott Aukerman

ORIGINAL FILM

The new Netflix original comedy BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE takes its name and premise from the faux online celebrity interview show of the same name hosted by Zach Galifianakis (playing a version of himself) that was born on FUNNY OR DIE in 2008.  

As the very specific title obviously demonstrates, the web series had the actor - in various states of being laughably idiotic and misinformed - aggressively interview various movie stars (and sometimes prominent politicians) in a series of mortifyingly debasing questions to the point of frequently coming off as pettily hostile...and all while both parties sit between two potted ferns on a set that's as low rent as they come.  The 22 episodes became cult online favorites, in particular for the side-splittingly hysterical manner that Galifianakis essentially roasted his targets via his insulting queries (by Galifianakis' own admission, it's not done for real and the actors are in on the gag, but they have no knowledge of the questions ahead of time and instead just improvise responses to them). 

I watched all of the FUNNY OR DIE episodes before screening this Netlfix film, and all of them are indeed hilarious for their brazen, cringe worthy inappropriateness.   In many respects, the digital shorts are glorious send-ups of the ultra polite manner that the Hollywood junket system works, with the press very rarely, if ever, pushing their famous subjects with any polarizing or insulting lines of questioning.  Now, with respect to the new film, BETWEEN TWO FERNS is a two for one effort, in a way, seeing as it's made as a mockumentary about a mock interview show, which leads to INCEPTION  levels of fakery depth.  Even though the mockdoc genre has been literally done to death in terms of form and structure (not to mention that most films based on short form programs or comedy skits usually struggle to find ways to justify a feature length running time), BETWEEN TWO FERNS manages to overcome these issues by expanding upon the web series' format and wholeheartedly delivers on what made that series so popular and successful: In short, we get an infectiously clueless Galifianakis interviewing a slew of relative who's who A-list movie stars without any filter whatsoever.  And the end result is compulsively watchable.   

 

 

The basic premise of the Netflix movie - directed by web series co-creator Scott Aukerman - couldn't be anymore simple.  Galifianakis plays, as mentioned, a bumbling man-child version of himself that has large aspirations of becoming the next Jimmy Fallon by hitting it big with his own late night talk show.  His only problems are (a) a lack of talent, (b) his lack of disciplined self censorship and (c) his insistence on offending everyone he interviews.  His BETWEEN TWO FERNS TV series becomes an instant viral sensation when his boss Will Ferrell (yes, that one, playing a amusingly power hungry version of himself) uploaded Galifianakis' cable access series to his founded FUNNY OR DIE website (he loves how much of a "fat idiot" Galifianakis is on his show).  Unfortunately for the host and his crew, tragedy nearly strikes during a recent interview segment with Matthew McConaughey (which opens the film), but not because of the horrible line of questioning that angers the Oscar winner ("What was the pot budget on TRUE DETECTIVE?"), but rather when the DAZED AND CONFUSED star nearly drowns when the studio room he's in nearly floods from floor to ceiling because of faulty piping.  Definitely not alright, alright, alright.   

In a panic, Galifianakis fears that his little small town show will be cancelled, but his boss in Ferrell gives him one final Hail Mary chance of redeeming himself and saving his job.  His ultimatum is this: Galifianakis and his low level crew are to take their show on the road and locate and interview as many willing celebs as possible within a finite time.  If successful, then Ferrell will make it his mission to give Galifianakis his own talk show on the Lifetime Network.  A cross country trek - and high hilarity - ensues. 

The plot here is essentially meaningless, mostly because it exists as a blueprint to help prop up the film's multiple celebrity interviews, which is the precise reason what fans of the original series want out of all of this.  There's no technical progression of the narrative, outside of the fact that Galifianakis and company journey from one town to the next to search out for their next victim...er...I mean...celebrity interview subject.  Clearly enough, the sole insatiable pleasure of watching this BETWEEN TWO FERNS is to witness Galifianakis' unstoppable willingness to make a complete ass of himself by mercilessly attacking the actors where they really hurt: their egos and reputations.  And Galifianakis plays his role as commendably straight as possible, unleashing one horrendously unsuitable question after another with a pitch perfect deadpan demeanor that scores big chuckles because of how sincerely he asks them without any fear of repercussions.  

And he goes for the absolute jugular here. 

Kudos also has to go to the rich menagerie of actors playing themselves in various states of angered befuddlement in response to Galifianakis' venomous attacks.  Take Jon Hamm, for instance, who's located by Galifianakis at a small town church in the middle of nowhere doing a soul crushing 7-hour autograph session, which he enthusiastically abandons to partake in Galifianakis' traveling show.  THOR: RAGNAROK and MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL star Tessa Thompson is found researching a role...in a trailer park...before she allows herself to be debased by Galifianakis' insipid and mean spirited interview jabs.  The pot bellied and bearded host perhaps saves his best, acid tongued zingers for six highly embarrassed subjects in particular, the first of which is Keanu Reeves, who looks mighty pissed when he's asked whether or not he's ever researched a movie role of someone that has actually taken acting lessons.  He later asks the incredulous Paul Rudd if he has any advice to give young, up and coming actors that want to hide their Jewishness as well as he has.  It doesn't end there, especially when he demands that Haliee Steinfeld apologizes to each of her 12 million Instagram followers for BUMBLEBEE or when he wonders whether or not Peter Dinklage's last named is an STD.  Beyond asking, say, Benedict Cumberbatch why he's a phony for selling out to be in Marvel films, Galifianakis perhaps faces his biggest challenge with David Lettermen, who matter of factly gives the host some "constructive criticism" that he hopes he'll take to heart: "People find you unpleasant," he bemoans, which is arguable the funniest blunt insult in the film. 

When it boils right down to it, BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE contains more genuine laughs per minute and some of the funniest material I've seen any comedy - theatrically released or not - in 2019.  At a wonderfully modulated 82 minutes, the film never wears out its welcome and never once commands a longer running time.  Yes, there's not much of a script here and there are times when the story pushes the interview segments to the sidelines to deal with expositional particulars (and to bring the film to a sense of closure), but those minor quibbles didn't bother me altogether too much.  BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE is a laugh-riot engine that takes a one note premise and swings for the fences with it.  Best of all, the humor of the film is never genuinely toxic or mean spirited, despite the fact that the fictional version of Galifianakis is such a loathsome host.  The film concludes with end credit bloopers showing the celebs and Galifianakis ruining takes by unstoppably corpsing at the sheer absurdity of what they're partaking in here.  You can almost sense the process being innately cathartic for these silver screen icons, especially for how Galifianakis' questions cuts through the perpetual veil of niceties that exists between them and reporters.  It's nice to know that these powerful industry players are awfully good sports at lampooning their own inflated images in the industry and, in turn, having their reputations dragged through the mud by a many a heartless question. 

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