'Between Two Ferns: The Movie' film review: Absurd web short makes the leap to feature film
Zach Galifianakis antagonizing A-list celebrities for a surreal talk show/internet short is itself ridiculous. The next-level of ludicrous is to draw that concept out to a feature-length film: behold "Between Two Ferns: The Movie" (streaming on Netflix starting Sept. 20).
In short: Small-town, cable access TV show host Zach Galifianakis goes on the road to do celebrity interviews to achieve his life long dream: hosting a talk show. Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, Jiavani Linayao, Will Ferrell and a ton of celebrities also star.
Of course "Two Ferns" is at its best during the superb cringe-fest interviews. The "plot" is a relatively thin excuse to string together what makes "Between Two Ferns" rule: watching an odd caricature of Galifianakis making Hollywood's elite uncomfortable. The simplicity of the narrative structure - Galifianakis and crew driving across the country to interview/mock celebrities - and the movie's brisk 82-minute runtime makes the meager premise palatable. Writer, director and "Fern" co-creator Scott Aukerman knows the interviews are the reason why anyone would bother watching a "Ferns" movie - this awareness helps keep the film moving along at a nice clip from interview to interview.
The Galifianakis from the Funny or Die series is a repellent and insensitive troll prodding celebs in their most vulnerable spots. That warped character, while absolutely hilarious in a 5-minute web short, could not fill out a movie. Thankfully the movie takes some of the edge off the weird host by rationalizing his aggressively mean and personal questions are driven by a hope and a dream: that someday his oft-ridiculed web series will one day lead to late night TV stardom. He's a somewhat endearing character chasing a dream - even if most of his choices are misguided and ridiculous.
But in making "Z.G." something approximating likable or at least empathetic, the movie runs into the problem of a protagonist with two modes: a desperate, foolish oddball and a host apparently trying to offend his guest. In creating the two personas, the movie does little to reconcile the gap between them or why the host seems so intent on decimating his guests.
Final verdict: The very longest episode of "Between Two Ferns" is six minutes of crystallized cringe hilarity - so a feature-length version simply shouldn't work. And it almost doesn't -- except the brains behind the series plays to the strengths of "Two Ferns": watching Galifianakis make A-listers squirm.
"Between Two Ferns: The Movie" streams on Netflix starting Sept. 20. This comedy has a running time of 82 minutes and is rated TV-14.