There’s nothing much new in Folk Hero & Funny Guy, a comedy from writer-director Jeff Grace. In the film, two lifelong friends embark on a road trip and over the course of their journey hash out a number of conflicts old and new while learning valuable lessons about themselves along the way. There have been countless variation on this kind of story. What it lacks in originality it makes up with between the chemistry of its two leads in Wyatt Russell and Alex Karpovsky, both of whom are given assists by some of the film’s colorful cameos.
Paul (Karpovsky) is a struggling comedian, performing his set in front of scattered crowds at open mics. Jason (Russell) is rock star, touring the country in sold out arenas and living a life of constant partying and womanizing. As Jason is experiencing immense levels of success, Paul’s engagement to his fiancé has just disintegrated and he’s thinking of returning to the world of advertising and abandoning comedy. The rock star is about to embark on a solo acoustic tour and invites his childhood friend to open for him with his stand-up comedy set. Along the way, Jason also invites Bryn (Meredith Hagner), an aspiring musician, to join their tour. This starts to sow the seeds of tension among the friends, as Paul takes a liking to Bryn only to be surprised when he finds out Jason has hooked up with her. As the tour continues to progress, the rift between friends grows wider as Jason is constantly surrounded by adoring fans while Paul’s comedy doesn’t quite land with audiences.
Early on it’s easy to get a sense of where Folk Hero & Funny Guy is going and it never deviates from the track. At least the chemistry between Russell and Karpovsky is able to slightly mitigate the unoriginal scenario, and the casting is rather impeccable. Russell has certainly inherited some charm from his father and his big personality along with his hairy visage certainly has him looking the part of some modern folk star. Karpovsky has the misanthropic feel of a struggling stand-up comedian. He does a good job at playing it kind of passive at first before eventually having enough of his longtime friend. There’s a comradery that he shares with Russell that allows Folk Hero & Funny Guy to retain some semblance authenticity among its more unimaginative moments.
Folk Hero & Funny Guy does something that is all too common in movies where a character is a stand-up comedian – his set just isn’t the least bit funny. Part of that is the point, as Paul is a fairly stubborn character and is set in his ways as to his approach to his material. Time and time again, though, people remark on how funny this character is and the material provided to an obviously game Karpovsky never illustrates that. So much of the film’s comedy falls flat that it has to rely on a cameo by David Cross as a DJ at a public radio station to salvage one of the film’s later scenes with jokes that actually work.
In the same way that the comedian just isn’t particularly funny, Folk Hero & Funny Guy is unable to do much with its dramatic content, most of which is rote and predictable. However, there’s a late cameo by Melanie Lynskey where the actress arrives and provides the film with an emotional spark it’s has been missing for much of its running time. There are times where the movie shows glimpses of what it could’ve been but these moments are fleeting and elusive.
Jeff Grace shows an eye with some visually effective moments, such as the film’s opening split screen. He never finds the rhythm that would make Folk Hero & Funny Guy sing like it’s capable of. Even as it’s falling flat dramatically or comically, at least he was dead on with his impeccable casting that really goes a long way in making the film consistently tolerable in its most uninspired moments.