Home Theatre: Between Two Ferns: The Movie - Between good and great
A fortnightly column that focuses on notable content available on the streaming platforms around you, and this week it's Between Two Ferns: The Movie, streaming on Netflix
When Between Two Ferns: The Movie was first suggested to me as something I could write about for this column, I only had a vague idea of what it was about. I'd watched a few short clips from Zach Galifianakis' Between Two Ferns show and that was about it. I decided to watch a couple of episodes to familiarise myself with the format before jumping into the movie. I found them amusing but not laugh out loud funny, so I wasn't sure if this was really going to be my thing. I went ahead and watched Between Two Ferns: The Movie anyway, and actually found it quite entertaining.
For those who, like me, may not be entirely familiar with the show, it is basically a parody of talk shows, with Galifianakis playing host and roasting celebrities in a one-on-one interview with a straight face, and the interviewees responding in kind. The humour is largely derived from the ensuing awkwardness. The Netflix movie is framed as a documentary being shot by an unnamed (incidentally Indian-origin) director and her crew about the life of Galifianakis, how his show came to be and its current state. What it actually is, is a sort of mockumentary (the film's director, Scott Aukerman, who also co-created the show, has said he was inspired by classic mockumentaries like This is Spinal Tap).
We are introduced to the crew of Between Two Ferns, which supposedly originated on Public Access television in a small town in North Carolina. This crew — producer Carol, cameraman Cam, and sound designer Boom Boom — form the primary cast of the film. The film opens with an accident that leads to them losing their gig and then goes back 48 hours. Both the opening sequence and the lead up to it that we see later, are quite hilarious, and really set the tone for the film. Post this accident, Will Ferrell, who founded the website that hosts the show in real life, playing a caricature of himself, offers Galifianakis the chance at a late-night talk show on a proper TV network, provided he goes on the road and completes 10 Fern interviews within two weeks. Galifianakis, in turn, enlists the help of his crew and the film from then on becomes a road trip/mockumentary/Between Two Ferns collage.
It's a strange mix but it mostly works — there's one kind of serious moment towards the end between Galifianakis and another character that is played a bit too straight. I kept waiting for the joke, but it never came... unless off-key trumpet playing counts. And given the style of the film, it's hard to take anything as seriously as this sequence seems to want us to. The tonal shift is a bit strange and not in the awkward, amusing way of the rest of the movie. A callback to this scene right at the end works much better because it actually comes with a punchline, and nicely balances the warm fuzzies with the absurd.
The absurd is really what this whole thing hangs on. If you're willing to give in to the absurd humour, this film will work for you. Fans of the show might be a bit let down if they go in expecting more of the same since the actual interviews are cut up into small clips and don't make up much of the film. But fans of Galifianakis should be satisfied. He holds the film together with his deadpan humour. And Lauren Lapkus, who plays Carol, is delightful as well.
All the guest appearances — of the various celebrities who get interviewed — are enjoyable, with Matthew McConaughey's and Benedict Cumberbatch's appearances being of particular note. Oh, and do watch out for the interview blooper reel that plays alongside the credits. This is easily the best part — Paul Rudd's offcuts are especially delicious — and makes me want to see similar outtakes from the show as well.
The reveal at the end is almost a Hail Mary to explain away the created-on-the-fly feel of the mockumentary bits. I'm not sure this was necessary since the aforementioned credits do much to salvage any impatience we might be feeling with the preceding parts that did not work. Stretching out what was essentially a few minutes show to over an hour-long movie was always going to result in some flab. But when the lingering impression is one of pure amusement, you don't mind that so much.