Between Two Ferns: The Movie

3 out of 5

Directed by: Scott Aukerman

I thought I’d written this review already?  Or is it more that I can’t think of much to say?

Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns was / is an often riotously funny web series in which Zach, with a celebrity guest, sits ‘tween two titular ferns and asks them embarrassing or insulting questions.  It’s often shot in a blank-faced, somewhat sloppy format so that it seems improvised, and while much of it certainly is, after the first few instances, it settles in that the celebs certainly know what they’re in for and are playing along.  That doesn’t necessarily ruin the charm – Zach has nailed the unassuming persona that allows for this formula to be amusing and not annoying – but it definitely means that it works best in its bite-sized formats.  A feature length version of this is an interesting proposition, and I think director Scott Aukerman and crew did the best possible variant of it, accomplishing making the shtick tolerable (and funny) for most of its runtime.

Part of the key is that the linking plot material doesn’t matter.  You might think it should be the opposite, that you’d need to strengthen the background material that justifies showing multiple clips of Between Two Ferns interviews back to back to back, but it would seem that the lesson of several failed SNL movies from back in the day rubbed off: people are smart, and you don’t have to create some masquerading back story if what you’re selling is what you’re selling.  And in this case, that’s Zach’s silly smack talk and people like Brie Larson and John Legend rolling their eyes at it; all that’s really needed are some breathers to reset.

And so we’re given a lovably ridiculous setup in which Funny or Die bossman Will Ferrell tasks Zach (and his cameraman, assistant, and sound person) demands 10 shows to be delivered in two weeks, prompting (in keeping with this loose thread, for no clear reason) a cross country trip to dig up the interview subjects.  There are some admittedly great moments in this plotting, including Zach’s obsession with his plants and a troublesome tryst involving someone he meets while on the road, but it also all hits a sort of even-keeled mark of chuckleworthy, with the various comic actors gathered all doing pretty spot on representations of certain types of people.

Regardless of the overall approach working to keep the thing watchable, we can’t step around the awareness of the interviews being “fake,” which inevitably makes them a bit repetitive after a while.   The flick, again, is smart enough to set that 10 interview limit, so once you get there it can transition over to “movie”, but it’s equally wise that the thing wraps up as quickly as it can.