Comedy actor, Zach Galifianakis, is known for his cult interview web series, Between Two Ferns, which typically pokes fun at high-profile celebrities. Before then, he was the weird guy from The Hangover, playing a string of oddball characters in middling comedies. He may have Peter Jacksoned, but hit comedy gold with Between Two Ferns, interviewing some of the world’s biggest celebrities and even President Barack Obama! The man’s offbeat sense of humour comes alive in front of the camera. Although after watching him being interviewed by Jerry Seinfeld, one of his Between Two Ferns guests and the host of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, he does seem to have his off days.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie probably seemed like a good idea when it was first pitched by Between Two Ferns star Galifianakis and director Scott Aukerman. A popular web series, a low budget movie that actually played into the show’s cheap, on-the-fly format… it seemed like one of those fateful “what could go possibly wrong?” moments. Between Two Ferns has built its reputation on formula, humiliation, absurdity and big name stars, playing to Galifianakis’s strengths as an oblivious troll turned interviewer. The idea that high profile guests would willingly subject themselves to ridicule and hostility makes it strange and awkward as it toys on the fringe of reality TV. The apparent spontaneity, tension in the room and Zach’s attempt to push his guests to breaking point is an uncomfortable hot seat and one-on-one roast meltdown.
While it almost seems like celebrities appear as a dare, he’s managed to snag and snark many of the biggest stars between two ferns with some hilarious results. In Between Two Ferns: The Movie he features Matthew McConnaughey, Tiffany Haddish, Brie Larson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Hamm, David Letterman, Paul Rudd and Peter Dinklage among others. The interview format may have broken new ground and works well as a short format web series. Unfortunately, this is where it’s at its best and its difficult to imagine it making a successful transition to film. Galifianakis’s film is probably as good as you could imagine it being given the parameters of the web series format and straight to TV aspirations. While it may have taken a movie to prove this, Between Two Ferns: The Movie is an unnecessary extension of the interview series.
Taking his show on the road quite literally, he finds himself interviewing a range of celebrities with his oddball crew tagging along. The underlying tension is that he must deliver 10 video interviews to the man bankrolling his high-profile The Tonight Show style interview show. Road-tripping on his own buck, pressures build and compel him to finish the job or risk losing everything.
“I suppose you’re all wondering why I called this meeting.”
Christopher Guest is the king of mockumentary type films, harnessing a talented pool of comedy talents to generate off-the-cuff laughs by lampooning anything from rock bands and dog shows to folk music and musicals. To be fair, Galifianakis is attempting something akin to David Brent: Life on the Road. However, there are enough strong examples around to make Between Two Ferns: The Movie pale by contrast. Functioning almost as if it was a salvaged season or possibly using clips to advertise a forthcoming season, this road movie has many flaws.
One of the biggest problems is that the outtakes are actually much funnier than the film itself, which functions as a mockumentary, lampooning itself without much more substance. As if making an excuse to minimise damage, the film crew shooting Between Two Ferns: The Movie are eventually exposed. The celebrity talent makes it more watchable yet the character or version of himself that Galifianakis is playing, doesn’t have many redeeming qualities. In it for his own reward, skimping to save money, mocking his guests, bending the rules, never really putting himself on the line… it’s difficult to root for a troll – especially for the full duration of a feature film.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie should have either made him the sweetest guy off screen, who’s oblivious to his terrible knack for interviewing. Or, gone full tilt into his douchebaggery with a healthy dose of schadenfreude. Unfortunately, the pay off just isn’t strong or believable enough and undercuts the essence of the show. Without any great underlying premise or twist, it becomes a fairly offbeat and underwhelming film experience. It’s not as smart, funny or spontaneous as a Christopher Guest mockumentary and while quirky, it isn’t able to sustain the same awkward tone of the original interviews.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie is not aggressively bad, but is uneven and doesn’t have the same magic and spontaneity of similar films. The star power and interview clips keep reminding you this is a Between Two Ferns movie, but leave you wanting more of the interviews when the comedy switches over to Galifianakis and his band of peripheral characters. Without the same tone as the web series and a floundering supporting performance from Will Ferrell, you start to feel that everyone’s got their faith in Galifianakis but not the film itself.
The bottom line: Stop-start