For more than a decade Zach Galifianakis has hosted his unusual talk show Between Two Ferns, where the comedic actor has played an exaggerated version of himself and interviewed an array of uncomfortable celebrities placed between his eponymous houseplants. Over its life on the website Funny or Die, Galifianakis landed some incredibly big names, including former president Barack Obama. Now Between Two Ferns is making the next big leap with its very own Netflix movie directed by Comedy Bang Bang’s mastermind Scott Aukerman simply titled Between Two Ferns: The Movie. But how does a parody of talk shows best served in small doses of insane interviewing handle its expansion into a feature length film? Surprisingly well. Between Two Ferns: The Movie leans heavily on the charms of its star and keeps the plot very minimal as it deftly moves Galifianakis from awkward interview subject to awkward interview subject.
Out of a little studio in North Carolina, Zach Galifianakis produces his offbeat talk show Between Two Ferns for public access television. The movie star and media mogul Will Ferrell streams these new installments on his website Funny Or Die, racking up countless clicks that pay big dollars as people tune in to watch its inept host fail. But when the studio that houses his show faces a cataclysmic disaster, Galifianakis is left with one option: film ten new episodes of his show for Ferrell and graduate to a network talk show. He hits the road with his faithful producer (Lauren Lapkus), his contentious cameraman (Ryan Gaul), and his steady sound-woman (Jiavani Linayao) as a documentary crew follows them while they scurry and scrounge for every interview opportunity they can find.
Galifianakis and Aukerman aren’t really concerned about diving deep in the characters and their motivations, but that works incredibly well for what is nothing more than a diverting comedy It’s mainly a series of absurd events that occur between outrageous interviews. The stuff between interviews never matches the outrageous hilarity of a bumbling Galifianakis asking the most famous people in the world some of the most biting questions that hit on all their personal and professional failings. They are questions that in almost any other format would prompt a quick walk-out by the guest, but its apparent that Galifianakis isn’t out to shame his celebrity pals but instead find the comedy that comes from prodding their public personas.
They’ve assembled an all-star roster of victims for Galifianakis to bludgeon with inappropriate questions. Marvel stars Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Tessa Thompson, and Benedict Cumberbatch subject themselves to that awkward position between the ferns. Over the course of the film, they’re joined by Matthew McConaughey, Keanu Reeves, Tiffany Haddish, Peter Dinklage, Hailee Steinfeld, David Letterman, and more. Each interview segment is filled with absolutely hilarious moments, though few of these moments factor into the film’s attempt at crafting a narrative. The one duo of celebrities that do factor into the film’s narrative are the married couple of supermodel Chrissy Teigen (recently dubbed a “filthy mouthed wife” by the President of the United States) and singer John Legend. The insanity of the Teigen/Legend plotline proves to be one of the film’s best sequences and one of the few that seem like they were thoroughly conceived before filming, which, I must add, is not to a knock against the film but more a comment about the improvisational nature of the entire undertaking.
But Between Two Ferns: The Movie isn’t without its lulls, but most of those come when the film is focusing on its plot and its characters. In a more conventional comedy this would be a negative, but this particular film knows what its audience wants – awkward interviews – and it delivers that time and time again. The fact that the film is able to overcome these minor forgettable moments is also a testament to its cast, all of whom stand strong when the screenplay credited to Aukerman (who also shares a story by credit with Galifianakis) dedicates itself to moments of character when there’s little depth there. While the plotting is by-the-numbers, the actors bring as much depth to their characters as they possibly can and Aukerman’s freewheeling improvisational style let’s the actors make something out of nothing in the little moments, and some deft editing makes sure the film never drags too long before breaking out in another hilarious moment.
The simple truth is that Between Two Ferns: The Movie isn’t out redefine or revolutionize comedy. It’s goal is to make you laugh over the course of 80 minutes and there are enough laughs in the film that director Scott Aukerman and star Zach Galifianakis achieve their goal and then some. Admittedly, I do wish the non-interview segments were funnier, but there’s enough wry comedy going on in these moments to keep your interest until the next famous face is stranded beside Galifianakis and those dreadful ferns. This movie aims for unrelenting silliness and pulls it off. I consider that a success.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie
Between Two Ferns: The Movie pulls off the impossible, as director Scott Aukerman and star Zach Galifianakis turn their viral videos into a wildly entertaining feature film that isn’t without its lulls but when it’s funny it’s absolutely hilarious.