BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE (Scott Aukerman). 82 minutes. Streaming on Netflix and screening Friday (September 20) at 2 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West) as a JFL42 ComedyCon event. Rating: NNNN
Amazingly, somehow, Between Two Ferns is now a movie. Scott Aukerman’s weird little Funny Or Die web series – which, for a decade, has afforded Zach Galifianakis the opportunity to insult very famous people like Bruce Willis, Justin Bieber, Natalie Portman and Barack Obama while pretending to interview them for his fake public-access talk show – has evolved into a narrative feature film while still keeping its weird, spiky charm.
The movie takes the form of a documentary, following Galifianakis and his crew (Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, Jiavani Linayao) as they race across America to record 10 episodes of the show in order to convince Funny Or Die honcho the show is ready for a broadcast slot.
Given that Team Two Ferns manages to drown Matthew McConaughey before they even leave their North Carolina home base, this is a very big ask… but our heroes are nothing if not determined, and appointments are made to wrangle the likes of Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Hailee Steinfeld, Tiffany Haddish and many more. (Well, six more.)
Aukerman and Galifianakis, who devised the premise of the mostly improvised feature, aren’t big on broad character arcs; they’re just out to milk as much comedy from every scene as is humanly possible. This is not a criticism: I was worried that Between Two Ferns: The Movie would lose the series’ one-and-done rhythms at feature length, but the lack of emotional through-lines – except for a couple that are deployed as running gags – lets the movie bounce from one setup to the next, spinning through celebrity cameos at a dizzying rate while letting every last one of its A-list guest stars find his or her perfect response to Galifianakis’s brutal interview style.
I will also admit that I am totally the target audience for this movie, being both someone who interviews people for a living (including Galifianakis that one time) and a devoted fan of Aukerman’s Earwolf podcast network, from which the filmmaker has pulled most of his supporting cast.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie is packed with cameos from cult comics and gifted improv players, each of them showing up to goof around with the core cast and then make room for the next weird character. (Comedy Bang! Bang! MVPs Lapkus and Gaul have more grounded roles as Galifianakis’s chipper producer and glowering cameraman, respectively, but their background reactions build up their own comic energy.)
And then there’s Will Ferrell, playing himself as though his Zoolander villain Mugatu grabbed the wheel in the early 00s and never gave it back. In just a few minutes of screen time, he creates an alter ego of pure alpha-bro decadence, and the fact that he’s doing it opposite the stone-faced Galifianakis just makes him go even bigger.
It ought to be exhausting, but somehow it’s really, really funny – just like everything else about this movie. They did it. They pulled it off. They made a movie out of Between Two Ferns.