In Funny Pages, a teenage comic-book obsessive shrugs off the comforts & privileges of their suburban upbringing to seek an authentic outsider-artist lifestyle in the city, jumpstarting their adult independence in the most juvenile ways possible. If that premise recalls Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World, it’s not by mistake. Funny Pages proudly wears its 2000s indie nostalgia as a grimy badge of dishonor, questioning why Ghost World and The Safdies can’t share the same marquee. Its alt-comics slackerdom initially feels out of step with the modern world, but it turns out aimless teenage rebellion doesn’t change much from decade to decade. Being a total brat who worships at the altar of Subversive Art at the expense of developing meaningful politics & relationships is a timeless rite of passage, and every generation needs their own gut-punch movie to mock that shithead behavior.
If Funny Pages updates the Ghost World template for the 2020s in any discernable way, it’s only in its Safdies-style casting choices. This is a version of Ghost World where every character is as interesting to look at as Steve Buscemi, from Our Flag Means Death‘s Matthew Maher to Orange is the New Black‘s Constance Shulman to The Andy Milonakis Show‘s Andy Milonakis to a long list of one-of-a-kind screen presences you’ll never see in television or film again. Most artists are difficult people, so there’s something immensely satisfying about seeing Real People on the screen again in this working-class art world context. I say that with both full sincerity and full awareness that it makes me sound like the exact kind of dipshit suburbanite poser Funny Pages brutally satirizes. In a movie about the boundaries between authenticity & stolen valor, it’s important to be on the right side of that dividing line.
Funny Pages is very funny, but it’s funny in a way that has you laughing while feeling like your skin is on fire. It’s funny in the way that vintage alt-comics are funny, testing the extremes of good taste and then pushing past them to offend your delicate sensibilities. It’s funny in the way that Ghost World is funny; it’s funny in a way that makes you feel like total shit. Its effectiveness depends on your own personal embarrassment over being an edgelord provocateur as a teen, but it’s unlikely that anyone who didn’t go through that phase would stumble across this movie anyway. There’s an endless supply of former Subversive Art brats to fill out the audience. More are born & reformed every year, to the point where this movie would’ve been just as effective as a Blockbuster rental in 2002 as it is an art theater marquee-filler in 2022, something I can confirm from memory.