Review: ‘Funny Pages,’ starring Daniel Zolghadri, Matthew Maher, Miles Emanuel, Josh Pais, Maria Dizzia, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Ron Rifkin

September 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Matthew Maher and Daniel Zolghadri in “Funny Pages” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Funny Pages”

Directed by Owen Kline

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Jersey, the comedy/drama film “Funny Pages” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A teenager defies his parents’ wishes by dropping out of high school and moving out of the family home to become a professional comic-book illustrator, and he meets a very eccentric would-be mentor along the way.

Culture Audience: “Funny Pages” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in low-key, quirky comedy/drama movies about comic book enthusiasts.

Daniel Zolghadri, Michael Townsend Wright and Miles Emanuel in “Funny Pages” (Photo courtesy of A24)

The comedy/drama “Funny Pages” is a very offbeat love letter to comic book fanatics and the extreme decisions some artists will make to pursue their dreams. The movie’s tone is inspired more by Charlie Kaufman than by Kevin Smith. “Funny Pages” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

“Funny Pages” is the feature-film directorial debut of writer/director Owen Kline, who is also known as an actor who had roles in 2001’s “The Anniversary Party” and 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale,” when Kline was a child. These experiences as a child actor no doubt informed the creation of “Funny Pages” protagonist Robert Bleichner (played by Daniel Zolghadri), an eccentric teen who wants to grow up fast and become an illustrator of comic books and comic strips that have sexually explicit, raunchy comedy.

Robert, who’s about 16 or 17 years old, lives with his parents Lewis (played by Josh Pais) and Jennifer (played by Maria Dizzia) in a typical middle-class home in Princeton, New Jersey. The beginning of “Funny Pages” is an indication of some of the weirdness throughout the movie. Robert is in a private meeting at the home of his art teacher Mr. Katano (played by Stephen Adly Guirgis), who is a fan of the type of rude and raunchy illustrations that Robert wants to draw.

Robert confides in Mr. Katano that he plans to drop out of high school, because Robert thinks that the places where he wants to work will only care about his talent and portfolio, not if he has a high school diploma. However, Mr. Katano doesn’t think that Robert has a strong-enough identity that comes through in Robert’s drawings. Mr. Katano tells Robert: “Everything in your portfolio needs to be clearly coming from who you are … Who do you draw for?”

Robert doesn’t have a definite answer to that question. Mr. Katano knows that Robert likes to draw pictures of naked people. The meeting takes a very unorthodox turn when Mr. Katano asks Robert if he wants to draw Mr. Katano. Robert says yes, and without hesitation, Mr. Katano taks off all of his clothes, except for a pair of socks. He stands up on his desk and tells Robert to do a nude sketch of him. Robert is a little surprised, but he does the sketch with a little discomfort.

Even though there was nothing sexual about Mr. Katano’s offer, it’s still extremely inappropriate for a teacher to get naked in front of an underage child who’s a student of the teacher’s. Mr. Katano knows it, and he has second thoughts about what he just did, especially after Robert finishes the sketch and quickly leaves because Robert says that he has to be home by a certain time. While Robert is walking home on a street near an expressway, Robert sees that Mr. Katano is following Robert in Mr. Katano’s car.

With the car window rolled down on the driver’s side, Mr. Katano tells Robert that he wants to make sure that what happened with the nude sketch session wasn’t something that made Robert feel threatened or embarrassed. Robert assures Mr. Katano that he thinks everything is just fine, and that what happened won’t change their student/teacher relationship. And then, out of nowhere, Mr. Katano’s car gets hit by another car speeding in the opposite direction. Mr. Katano is killed instantly.

After the funeral, Robert breaks into Mr. Katano’s home to steal some personal items that he’s sure that Mr. Katano (who lived alone and had no known relatives) would want him to have. A house alarm goes off, and Robert is arrested for the break-in. He has a public defender named Cheryl (played by Marcia DeBonis), who thinks Robert is an adorable and misunderstood kid, even though Robert is not as meek and nice as Cheryl initially thinks he is. She is able to get the charges dismissed by arguing to the court that Robert did the break-in out of grief, and he only took items that he thought were rightfully his. (Apparently, Mr. Katano didn’t leave a will.)

Mr. Katano’s death, Robert’s legal problems and the dismissal of Robert’s criminal case all happen in the first 20 minutes of “Funny Pages” and shown with some choppy editing. By the end of those 20 minutes, viewers will either be turned off from seeing the rest of this movie or curious to see what will happen next with this very unusual teenager. Many people in Robert’s life are skeptical that he will “make it” as a professional illustrator, but he is unwavering in trying to make his dream come true.

Much to his parents’ disapproval, Robert is so eager to get started on this career, he drops out of high school, moves out of the family home, and gets his own place: a rented room in a dirty and dumpy house in Trenton, New Jersey. Robert’s creepy and disheveled landlord Barry (played by Michael Townsend Wright), who also lives in the house, knows that Robert is underage, but Barry doesn’t care as long as Robert pays the rent. Robert shares the room with another weirdo tenant named Steven (played by Cleveland Thomas Jr.), who doesn’t talk much, but when Steven does talk, it’s often out loud to himself.

In his quest to become a comic book illustrator and in order to pay his bills, Robert takes a part-time job working at a comic book store. Robert also gets a part-time job working as an administrative assistant to Cheryl, who is highly amused when she finds out that Robert expresses his naughty side in his illustrations. Robert’s best friend (and only friend) is a former classmate named Miles (played by Miles Emanuel), a mild-mannered nerd who is in awe of Robert being able to have so much independence at a young age.

It’s through Robert’s job with Cheryl that Robert soon meets a hot-tempered, mentally ill man named Wallace Schearer (played by Matthew Maher), who was an assistant colorist at Image Comics. Wallace, who is one of Cheryl’s clients, got into trouble for having an emotional meltdown at a pharmacy and committing vandalism on the property. Robert meets Wallace when Wallace arrives at Cheryl’s office for an appointment.

Even though Wallace clearly has mental health problems, Robert is immediately intrigued when he finds out that Wallace used to work for Image Comics. It’s at this point in the movie that you know Wallace and Robert will go back to the pharmacy where Wallace committed his crime. Former “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” star Louise Lasser makes a disturbing cameo as a drugged-out and drooling pharmacy customer named Linda, who demands that Robert give her a Percocet. Ron Rifkin also makes a brief appearance in “Funny Pages,” as Robert’s unnamed grandfather.

Because of Wallace’s experience working at a well-known comic book publishing company, Robert becomes fixated on getting Wallace to mentor Robert. The rest of “Funny Pages” involves Robert’s strange encounters with people in the Trenton area and his desperate attempts to become Wallace’s student/protégé. Although none of the acting is terrible in “Funny Pages,” don’t expect to see a lot of pleasant characters in this movie.

There’s some violence, nudity and very dark comedy in this odd little film, but for people who are open to this type of movie-watching experience, “Funny Pages” has enough to hold viewers’ interest. “Funny Pages” is both a satire and a tribute to the single-minded passion that can consume artists to express themselves in their art. The movie has several mentions about whether or not an artist’s work has “soul.” In provocative and peculiar ways, “Funny Pages” examines if artists who pour their souls into their work might also lose their souls in the process.

Review: ‘The Mimic’ (2021), starring Thomas Sadoski and Jake Robinson

February 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jake Robinson and Thomas Sadoski in “The Mimic” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“The Mimic” (2021)

Directed by Thomas F. Mazziotti

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed suburb in New York state, the comedy film “The Mimic” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A writer is annoyed by a younger man who follows him everywhere and seems to want to copy everything that the writer does.

Culture Audience: “The Mimic” will appeal primarily to people who have the patience to sit through a movie whose comedy is too self-conscious and awkward for its own good.

Jake Robinson and Thomas Sadoski in “The Mimic” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

In the comedy film “The Mimic,” a struggling screenwriter is aggravated because he’s being stalked by a younger man who seems to want to imitate everything about this writer’s life. But viewers will be doubly irritated because both of these characters are equally obnoxious in this dull and time-wasting film. Written and directed by Thomas F. Mazzioti, “The Mimic” is one of those movies that tries too hard to be deadpan funny, but the dialogue is often idiotic and downright cringeworthy.

Most of the characters in this movie don’t have names. In the film’s credits, the two central characters are listed as The Narrator (played by Thomas Sadoski) and The Kid (played by Jake Robinson), who are at odds with each other for almost the entire story. The Narrator is a 41-year-old widower who writes for a small newspaper in the unnamed suburb where he lives in New York state. The Kid is a 31-year-old married man who’s recently moved near The Narrator. The Kid begins stalking The Narrator and tries to copy his mannerisms and actions. Neither of these men has kids, which is a good thing, because no child deserves to have insufferable parents like these two self-absorbed creeps.

It’s soon becomes clear to viewers that there’s nothing about The Narrator’s life or personality that’s worth mimicking. He’s bitter about being alone, and he doesn’t like to see other people happy in their personal lives. And he has a weird obsession with the concept of being a sociopath—so much so that he immediately calls The Kid a sociopath. And he keeps calling him a sociopath repeatedly, when it wasn’t even funny the first time.

Needless to say, “The Mimic” is one of those movies that has annoying voiceover narration from you-know-who. And making things worse, the entire movie is filled with cheesy sitcom music as the film score. The actors in the movie are adequate but can’t save this embarrassing and clunky film that can’t decide whether it wants to be a dark comedy or a screwball comedy.

“The Mimic” starts out somewhat promising, by appearing to be unconventional and unpredictable. The opening line is a voiceover of The Narrator saying, “The high point of the weekend was when my St. Bernard fell through my attic ceiling and landed on my kitchen table.”

Why? Because The Kid was up in the attic snorting cocaine and somehow the dog fell through the floor. It sounds like a situation ripe for some potentially hilarious slapstick, but the movie just mentions this scenario and does nothing clever with it. There are too many moments in this film where it’s nothing but silly arguments and unimaginative action.

The first time that The Narrator meets The Kid, it’s when The Kid shows up unannounced at a newspaper staff meeting and says he wants to write for the paper. Apparently, this newspaper has no budget for an office but instead the staffers meet in someone’s living room. The Narrator says in a voiceover: “I first met The Kid when he infiltrated our small-town newspaper, right after my wife died. I say ‘infiltrated,’ because I believe it was a deliberate action to meet me.”

Up until The Kid came along, The Narrator (who says he’s a trying to write a screenplay) was the only man on the staff. The rest of the newspaper employees are four middle-aged and elderly women, who hire The Kid on the spot without even interviewing him. The Narrator thinks these women are all tedious and uptight because they obsess over things like comma placement in an article. Meanwhile, the only reason why this scene seems to exist is to have Marilu Henner, Didi Conn and Jessica Walter share a scene, since they play three of the women on the newspaper staff.

In fact, “The Mimic” is filled with cameos from character actors whose names are best known to people who are familiar to TV shows and movies from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. M. Emmet Walsh, Austin Pendleton and Josh Pais all make brief appearances in the movie, which wastes their talent with nonsensical scenes. Gina Gershon has a cameo as a woman who has a tryst with The Kid in a restaurant ladies’ room, because the movie keeps mentioning that The Kid has a thing for older women.

After The Narrator and The Kid meet, The Kid starts showing up in the same places where The Narrator is and says to him: “We’re on the same wavelength!” At an outdoor park, The Kid and The Narrator have a conversation where The Kid reveals a little bit more about his personal life.

The Kid, who moved from New Jersey to New York, says he’s been married for seven years to his high-school sweetheart, but their marriage hit a rough patch when he left her for an older woman. That affair didn’t last, and his wife took him back. The Kid then inexplicably plucks two giant mushrooms from the park and holds each mushroom upright in each hand during this conversation, so this movie can make his character look “quirky.” It’s one of many sight gags in the movie that don’t work well at all.

As much as The Kid seems to be obsessed with The Narrator for unknown reasons, The Narrator is also fixated on The Kid. At an optometrist appointment, The Narrator is asked to read the eye chart and he can only see the word “sociopath,” so he spells it out for the doctor who’s giving the eye exam. The Narrator says, “I’m a writer and I’m still trying to read between the lines.” The Narrator also goes to a library to do more research on sociopaths.

Later, The Narrator and The Kid have a long-winded conversation at a restaurant. The Narrator (and the audience) can’t be certain how much of what The Kid says is true and how much is a lie. However, The Narrator becomes intrigued about learning more about The Kid’s wife because she sounds like the type of wife whom The Narrator wishes he had.

The Narrator and The Kid have other meet-ups, such as at a tennis court, a hospital and eventually at The Kid’s house. The Kid’s wife seems to be elusive though, so that becomes a subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere. “The Mimic” is such a badly written movie that it never actually shows The Narrator or The Kid having lives outside of their moronic conversations.

The Narrator says that he’s using his experiences with The Kid as his next screenplay, but the movie never shows him doing any work either on the screenplay or at his newspaper job. Whatever The Kid does to make money, it remains vague and questionable, just like many other things about this character’s life.

How bad is “The Mimic”? In a scene where The Narrator and The Kid first have dinner together at what looks to be a mid-priced restaurant, The Narrator says in a voiceover: “It’s been my experience, with women at least, that if she orders white wine, she’s classy. If she orders red wine, she has class, but she can get a little wild. And if she orders rosé, she’s a slut.”

Guess which type of wine The Kid orders, considering that he’s supposed to be the “crazy” one of this duo? The Kid’s obsession with The Narrator and vice versa have some undertones of homoeroticism, which The Narrator seems to acknowledge when he says, “This is turning into a gay relationship without the sex.”

In another of many scenes with bad dialogue, Pais portrays The Narrator’s unnamed lawyer, who meets with The Narrator over lunch at a restaurant. For no reason whatsoever, the lawyer says, “I hate cats. They close their eyes when they eat. I want them to know who’s feeding them and who’s paying for everything.”

If people have the misfortune to watch this terrible movie from beginning to end, they’ll be closing their eyes too from falling asleep (because it’s so boring) or because they want to un-see some of the stupidity that’s on the screen.

Gravitas Ventures released “The Mimic” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 5, 2021.

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