What on Earth can you expect from a feature-length version of Between Two Ferns, the Funny or Die shorts where Zach Galifianakis has (horribly) interviewed various celebrities for over a decade now? The answer is…pretty much the same thing we’ve been getting, held together by a thin narrative that dips in and out of cohesiveness. But what more can you ask for? Between Two Ferns: The Movie is such a fun, niche little gift for fans of the web series, and when it’s good, oh boy, it’s as hilarious as it’s ever been.
The shorts, hosted on Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die site, consist of Galifianakis and his guest in a small, cramped studio, with two large ferns framing the set and existing as the only pieces of decoration. Zach’s signature style of awkward, cringeworthy ignorance as he makes his guests squirm with discomfort never fails to crack me up, and it’s made all the better when he suddenly switches gears to throw brash insults at the celebrities he’s speaking to. It’s the driest humor, and the videos are kept brief, so how do you stretch the concept out to nearly an hour and a half?
Director and writer Scott Aukerman, who helmed most episodes of the original series, creates a story around the low-budget production – Galifianakis has big dreams of being the star of his own late-night talk show, but he currently operates out of a small broadcast studio in North Carolina. After he floods the building during a disastrous interview with Matthew McConaughey, his boss, a coked-up, sleazy Will Ferrell, arrives to lay down the law. Ferrell is who put Zach’s show online, where he can soak up all the hits on his website while Zach does all the work, and he does it out of the belief that people are laughing at him, not with him. “I find it fascinating that someone that grotesque can be watchable.”
Zach begs Ferrell for the chance at Hollywood fame, which he reluctantly agrees to, but only if Zach can deliver ten episodes to him by the time he arrives in Los Angeles. And thus, Zach and his ragtag crew (who are unaware that they weren’t promised a job as well) embark on a road trip across the country, interviewing numerous celebrities along the way. It’s not the strongest premise, and every time you’re stuck with the narrative, you’re basically waiting around for them to get back to the interviews. But Aukerman knows this, opting to make it as silly as possible and provide opportunity for different kinds of jokes that don’t lend themselves to the interview setting. There’s a little bit of commentary on selling out versus staying true to yourself – it’s skin-deep – but it’s there.
The filmmaking never goes beyond the quality of a long comedy sketch, but why would it need to? Between Two Ferns: The Movie pretty much gives you exactly what you’re pressing play for; it’s filled to the brim with celebrity cameos ranging from Brie Larson to Benedict Cumberbatch to John Legend to Paul Rudd and more. It’s hilarious when Galifianakis knocks them all down a peg, and even when the guests are in on the joke, the quips are savage and left me giggling and gasping for air at several points. We’re lucky something like this exists at all, and you can’t help but feel like you’re in on it with them. At a time when hacks are complaining about culture killing comedy (it hasn’t), it’s a very easy way to grab some quick and big laughs.
3.5 / 5 Stars
Between Two Ferns: The Movie is now streaming on Netflix.