Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019)

“I want people to laugh with me, not at me.”

The entire idea behind Between Two Ferns: The Movie seems to be how ridiculous it is that this paper thin premise could be a movie in the first place, and by that measure the anti-comedy approach occasionally succeeds in spades. And at less than 90 minutes, the film somehow tests your patience, almost making us feel like one of the celebrity guests. But by elongating this smart premise that’s perfect for short form entertainment, the idea to make the unnecessary leap into the feature length format quickly becomes tired, all too predictable, and totally cumbersome. Between Two Ferns really excels as an inexplicable YouTube show. The movie, however, is like painfully watching an indulgent comedian diagram and explain a perfect joke. At a certain point you just lose interest.

Billed as and playing a shell of his famous self, Zach Galifianakis reprises his role as a grating public access channel talk show host who pushes his guests’ buttons without much purpose. The movie explains the ins and outs behind the low-budget local scenes, introduces us to the slight production team, and tells us how it is that he gets A-list celebrities to drop by the cheap set for a few insulting and inflammatory minutes. Accordingly, Will Ferrell also plays his own real part as the demanding head behind the website “Funny or Die.” He kicks and screams and yells, and the movie is only dragged down by his presence. I used to enjoy Ferrell’s obnoxious brand of comedy, but over the years and further proven by this movie, he shows that self-parody sometimes needs a little reinvention and thoughtfulness, and his work has become a laughless version of his own SNL character with voice immodulation.

The same harsh critique doesn’t wholly apply to Between Two Ferns as it ditches the studio to hit the road, trying to meet the demands of Ferrell’s character with the fingers-crossed promise of earning a real late night show. And while the movie is intermittently humorous at best, the supporting characters surprisingly supply the majority of the jokes. The sound boom, affectionately called “Boom Boom” (Jiavani Linayao) flirts with and tempts each guest before denying their advances. Cameron “Cam” Campbell (Ryan Gaul) has a love/hate relationship with his miserable boss similar to that of Toby and Michael on The Office. Carol Hunch (Lauren Lapkus) serves as the show-runner, and Lapkus is the real star of the film. Her comedic timing and her many incredulous looks perfectly suit the hit or miss material. The story needed more of her.

I don’t think that I’ve ever laughed my entire way through any of the many celebrity videos filmed between two ferns that have been posted online, mostly because they’re more apt to make you feel uncomfortable than they are concerned with telling great jokes. And although the film does have a few creative gags, the film more or less follows the exact same formula. The best clips of the online show are made memorable due to ambiguity and detachment, so it doesn’t make much sense to turn this viral hit into another nightly Netflix binge watch. Between Two Ferns: The Movie isn’t a terrible time, but that the brief blooper reel rolling with the credits is the funniest part speaks to how creatively lifeless the film feels as a disjointed whole.

“This isn’t you.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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