Between Two Ferns Screens at JFL42 (Review)

BETWEEN TWO FERNS, 2019, PH_0027.RAF

Netflix in a Theater: The Interrobang’s coverage of Toronto’s JFL42 comedy festival kicks off with a screening of The Between Two Ferns Movie.

There are few things that can get Torontonians inside on one of the last beautiful summer days they will experience before fall. For context fall is basically winter and winter is seasonal affective disorder and losing your favorite scarf. Yet the screening of the highly-anticipated between Two Ferns movie at the JFL42 comedy festival in Toronto accomplished just that with a full house at the TIFF Bell Lighthouse giving comedy coverers a chance to experience a little taste of the TIFF-life.

Between Two Ferns Is the internet comedy sensation that started in 2008 and featured Zach Galifianakis candidly barbing celebrities with insults and ironic production value.

The action of the feature length version begins after an interview goes wrong and severely damages the studio. The boss, played by Will Ferrell, challenges Zach Galifianakis and his team of Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, and Jiayani Linayao to deliver nine episodes of Between Two Ferns in two weeks. Fail and they all lose their jobs. Win, and Between Two Ferns will be transformed into a new late-night entity.

So Zack and his team set out on a two-week road trip to track down the A-list celebrities and force them into the hot seat between the two titular ferns.

The plot is rightfully secondary to the actual Between Two Ferns segments, that feature David Letterman, Paul Rudd and Brie Larson amongst others, and they all keep with the same post-alt humor the digital entity is known for.

Between Two Ferns grew its online fan base organically, simultaneously rejecting and satirizing mainstream celebrity obsession. The film largely commits to that original premise, with a cast of comedy thoroughbreds that largely deliver with a few weak spots. Lauren Lapkus is lovely as ever optimistic producer Carol. She matches and compliments Zach Galifianakis at every turn, something that is essential to establishing and maintaining the truly bonkers tone of the Between Two Ferns universe. A scene where she comforts and encourages Zach Galifianakis while fishing with hot dogs in a decommissioned Swan boat remonds us of all the collective Carols in our life and their place in our hearts in minds.

But the film inevitably strays from this original tone, leaving you feeling as if the people they were taking aim at, are now trying to get in on the joke.

Most notably, the film jumps on board a growing decided effort by NBC to make John Legend and Chrissy Teigen funny. There is clearly an attempt in place to rebrand the former supermodel and monetize her funny online persona popular with the very lucrative cool mom demographic, and the attempt to inject her and her husband into the Between Two Ferns movie doesn’t play well to long time fans of the series irony.

Teigen is being shoehorned into this position (see, for example last year’s A Ledgendary Christmas special, and selecting her as a judge on NBC’s odd new comedy competition, Bring the Funny) to no real effect, and in fact, possibly to the detriment of some subplots that were cut for time. The drawn out and forced feeling part of the screen time that went to Teigan and Legend could have gone to better use. Although both are multi-talented- between the two of them they can play the piano, sing, dance, act and be a Victoria Secret model- they have not put in their time in the comedy world to hold the positions network exces are attempting to force them into. Their scenes in BTF play like two comedy thoroughbreds (Galifianakis, Lapkus) hand holding two celebrities, which creates an antithesis to where the comedy of the original series lies.

You can feel the strain again, to a lesser extent, when John Hamm is on screen.

Unlike Teigan and Legend, Hamm does not lack the ability to be funny in the Between Two Ferns universe. He just misses the mark being far too friendly and engaging in his interview with a highly haphazard way of entering the movie. Jon Hamm got to be one of the most classically handsome and deeply complicated anti-heroes in television history on Mad Men. In recent years attempts to rebrand as a comedy star always feels regressive and disingenuous. It’s not like the right project couldn’t make it happen, it’s just that project has not come along yet. And Between Two Ferns is not the right project.

After the screening at JFL42, three director’s chairs and yes, two ferns were set up for the Q&A with director Scott Aukerman and star Lauren Lapkus moderated by legendary Canadian film critic Richard Crouse.

They discussed the tone of the movie, what an interesting path of development it took from web series to feature length movie, how Netflix has taken the place of the straight to DVD route, plus plenty of interesting stories from the set, and the challenges that accompany writing an almost entirely improvised movie.

The panelists revealed that Zach Galifianakis wished he had not used his own name for his character in the series. It presented an interesting problem when trying to integrate the subplot of his character’s family in the movie. He did not want to use his actual family, he did not want to have a dramatic representation of his family to have their actual last names and with that remaining as the only legitimate option, the subplot never saw the light of day.

A TV show being transformed into a movie is always certainly in response to the fans love for the show. A web series that is able to accomplish this is historic. The Between Two Ferns movie expands into the new medium while bringing its old fans along.

Watch Between Two Ferns only on Netflix, streaming now.

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