Netflix UK film review: Between Two Ferns: The Movie
Andrew Jones | On 22, Sep 2019Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Scott Aukerman
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, Jiavani Linayao
Watch Between Two Ferns: The Movie online in the UK: Netflix UK
Since early 2008 the internet has been abuzz with the bizarre interview show Between Two Ferns, which saw about-to-become-megastar Zach Galifianakis host a public access-style show whererin he interviews huge movie stars in the most aggressive, mean-spirited and antagonistic ways possible. The joke of the show is Zach’s inability to succeed in the interview and the Hollywood celebrities sitting there, dealing with the awfulness and sometimes delivering a gut-punch blow to the host.
This simple premise that led to Galifianikis turning on Hangover co-star Bradley Cooper, forcing Conan O’Brien to play third chair to Andy Richter and Andy Dick, and eventually promoting the American Healthcare Act by sitting with President Obama, and even a campaign trail interview with Hillary Clinton. If you’re looking for the internet’s power to create zeitgeist, Between Two Ferns is number one.
And so here we come to Netflix’s latest original film, a co-production with Will Ferrell’s Funny Or Die, the company that spawned the show, a Between Two Ferns motion picture. In mockumentary fashion, the film follows Galifiankis as he runs his show at a public access station in North Carolina, with his faithful crew including Carol the producer (Lapkus), Cam the cameraman (Gaul) and ‘Boom Boom’ the sound mixer (Linayao). Everything goes swimmingly, it seems, until the studio floods mid-interview, almost killing Matthew McConaughey. With no studio and Will Ferrell demanding more content to keep his click numbers increasing, Galifiankis and crew set across the United States of America to interview as many famous celebrities as they can, while trying to get along with one another in such close, constant, proximity.
Completely improvised sequences see Zach and his cohorts driving across the country hunting for big names, including the likes of Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation, Jon Hamm from Parks and Recreation and even Paul Rudd from Parks and Recreation, but there’s an odd feeling to the character of Zach Galifiankis within the film, aiming to be an extension of the onscreen interviewer, but also a kinder, more human version that people wouldn’t want to immediately strangle if they worked with him. This is akin to David Brent: Life On The Road, where the small, on-stage segments are exactly as you recall the character, but when hanging out with others for extended amounts of time – presumably to make it palatable for viewers – any antagonism is dropped and the character becomes only 10 per cent of their traditional self. So is it really the same character anymore?
When Between Two Ferns: The Movie works it is when we are back on the stage, having Galifiankis break into the celebrities’ personas, and getting as good as he gives. But for pacing purposes, it seems, the interviews are brief. Like a montage of moments from the shoot rather than fully-formed episodes, and without the awkward downtime, it becomes a series of punchlines without set-ups. When Zach is off-stage, with his crew, it sadly doesn’t hang together at all. All game improvisers, the crew around Galifiankis offer many weird asides and ideas, but never get enough time to grow, and so are just weird randomites rather than fully-realised oddities, in the way that they could be on director Aukerman’s popular Comedy Bang! Bang! Podcast.
As free-wheeling as Between Two Ferns: The Movie wants to be, allowing improv for a few jokes a scene, the film also has an awkward need to stick to a structure; when act two’s dramatic, emotional beats fly in, it’s a tonal shift so striking one wonders who thought of bothering to adhere to convention so harshly. Glacial pacing within 86 minutes is one thing, but there’s a tragedy in cutting from laughs because the film needs to get to a plot point. A structure can generate momentum to turn skits into a film, but there’s also a need to care about the characters, and the lack of time taken with some of the crew make it so that never can happen. It’s not like in Popstar, or This Is Spinal Tap, when people break up only to reform later; here, it’s the Zach Galifiankis show about making a Zach Galifiankis show, and it’s unfair to the audience and the performers not to enhance the world around him enough to make anything interesting.
Between Two Ferns is a great series of irreverent interview deconstructions. The movie, however, is a disappointing collection of half-interviews, middling bits and long empty stretches. There’s a big problem when the majority of the film’s laughs are in the end credit bloopers.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.