Skip to main content

The squirrel is me, isn’t it?

Funny Farm

(SPOILERS) Proof, if proof were needed, that some moviemakers really should not stray outside their comfort zone. Spielberg quickly realised goofball, John Landis-style comedy was not his greatest strength. George Roy Hill, who showed no prior acumen or inclination towards anything one might deem ex-SNL fare, mystifyingly alighted on Funny Farm, for what would turn out to be his last film, and proceeded to flatten it into a form more suited to his tastes. With the result that it is likely to satisfy no one.

Jeffrey Boam (RIP) was very diplomatic in his description of Hill screwing up his adaptation of Jay Cronley’s 1985 Funny Farm: “It was different from what I expected – George wanted to do a much classier version than I ever imagined it to be. I imagined it to be a little cruder, more low-brow humour, rougher and more like the movies Chevy was doing at the time, but George was a classy guy and he wasn’t going to do that. He does what he does. He made the movie classy, and I think a lot of Chevy’s fans were let down because it wasn’t as raucous and vulgar as they might have expected”.

I’d say calling Funny Farm classy is a stretch, but it’s certainly entirely lacking the knockabout, irreverent energy of Chase movies at their best, which is fatal. It isn’t quite Memoirs of an Invisible Man in terms of straightjacketing its star, but if you effectively cut off the comedian from doing what he does best and make him near-enough the straight man, you shouldn’t be surprised if the results are middling. Ironically, Chase considers it one of his best movies, but then, he’s never exactly been a connoisseur of his best moves. Hence Memoirs.

Sport writer Andy Farmer (Chase) moves from NYC to Redbud, Vermont with wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith) so as to write that novel. But rural life turns out to be far from the expected idyll, with mosquitos, nuisance neighbours, creative blockages, disagreements and burgeoning marital strife. Unless you’re Stephen King or Woody Allen – and even then – writers writing stories about writers is an often-inadvisable path, and Funny Farm fails to make hay from the concept, with Andy turning out to be rubbish but Elizabeth a fantastic children’s author (about a squirrel named Andy who gets run over… One does wonder quite how that’s going to sell, but let it pass).

There’s an interestingly dark genesis to their venture, with the arrival in Vermont marked by the removal van’s failure to arrive until the next day, and Elizabeth secreting the only food (a banana and a very Eden-ic apple) for herself. Whatever Andy’s foibles – such as the hubris of moving there in the first place – this announces Elizabeth as very much the culpable, untrustworthy party, setting the tone for the traumas that follow.

Hill has no feel for the humorous moments, always attempting to dampen them down, for the most part, to the realm of the feasible. The occasional broad moment intrudes – Andy eating a plate of sheep testicles under the illusion they’re meatballs (I mean, is there a difference?) However, the movie’s fish-out-of-water element is ultimately secondary to the marital breakdown, which in turn is remedied by… Christmas?

At least, it seems that way. Having decided on a divorce, Andy and Elizabeth persuade – promise to pay – the townsfolk to put on a show suggesting Redbud is the perfect Norman-Rockwell-painting place to live, in order to sell their house. It being the Christmas season, this means maximum Yule cheer, which in turn seems to thaw out their relationship and lead to mutual reconciliation.

You can see from the poster that Warner Bros had no idea how to sell this, and Funny Farm did unsurprisingly mediocre business (it made more than it cost but scarcely, and the following year’s Christmas Vacation grossed three times more). Hill had wanted his The World According to Garp star Robin Williams, who suggested Chase in the belief the part would be too buttoned down for his manic sensibility. Hill had been struggling with material for a decade (his preceding picture, The Little Drummer Girl, bombed).

If Hill was unsuited to the script, and Chase – difficult at the best of times – failed to find a good fit in a more naturalistic scenario, the source novel itself might also have represented a poser. Cronley novels would also be the basis of subsequent flops Let it Ride and the (pretty good) Quick Change. There hasn’t been much interest since. If you, like Jeff Wells, appreciate comedies you don’t have to laugh at, Funny Farm might be the one for you. Otherwise, it’s too little of nothing very much.

Popular posts from this blog

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

You ruined every suck-my-silky-ass thing!

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) (SPOILERS) Warner Bros has been here before. Déjà vu? What happens when you let a filmmaker do whatever they want? And I don’t mean in the manner of Netflix. No, in the sequel sense. You get a Gremlins 2: The New Batch (a classic, obviously, but not one that financially furthered a franchise). And conversely, when you simply cash in on a brand, consequences be damned? Exorcist II: The Heretic speaks for itself. So in the case of The Matrix Resurrections – not far from as meta as The New Batch , but much less irreverent – when Thomas “Tom” Anderson, designer of globally successful gaming trilogy The Matrix , is told “ Our beloved company, Warner Bros, has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy ” and it’s going ahead “with or without us”, you can be fairly sure this is the gospel. That Lana, now going it alone, decided it was better to “make the best of it” than let her baby be sullied. Of course, quite what that amounts to in the case of a movie(s) tha

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

It’s always possible to find a good moral reason for killing anybody.

The Assassination Bureau (1969) (SPOILERS) The Assassination Bureau ought to be a great movie. You can see its influence on those who either think it is a great movie, or want to produce something that fulfils its potential. Alan Moore and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen . The just-released (and just-flopped) The King’s Men . It inhabits a post-Avengers, self-consciously benign rehearsal of, and ambivalence towards, Empire manners and attitudes, something that could previously be seen that decade in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (and sequel Monte Carlo or Bust , also 1969), Adam Adamant Lives! , and even earlier with Kind Hearts and Coronets , whilst also feeding into that “Peacock Revolution” of Edwardian/Victorian fashion refurbishment. Unfortunately, though, it lacks the pop-stylistic savvy that made, say, The President’s Analyst so vivacious.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.