Although funny in parts Between Two Ferns: The Movie is shallow and unimpressive, with little heart, while the main narrative seems to be used as a vehicle for Funny or Die to show a new collection of celebrities at the unrelenting hands of Zack Galifianakis.
Netflix has released a full-length feature film based on the comedy talk show Between Two Ferns, taking audiences behind the scenes of the infamous ‘character’ that is comedian Zach Galifianakis. For those who haven’t seen the popular internet sketch, Between Two Ferns involves Zach and various celebrity quests literally sitting between two ferns. Galifianakis interviews his seemingly naive subjects using jokes, insults, and inappropriate questions to provoke a reaction. Often the celebrities will react with awkwardness, sass or disgruntlement as they try to keep their composure during the interview. Between Two Ferns was created to resemble a low budget set on a public access show; notoriously the show uses deliberate errors to reaffirm the low-quality standard of production.
Since its internet debut on the website Funny Or Die in 2008, Between Two Ferns was an instant viral hit and only grew in popularity as Galifianakis fine-tuned his interviewing persona. Celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Bruce Willis were guests on the show securing millions of views from around the world as Galifianakis took it upon himself to embarrass and tease these superstars for the audience’s pleasure. The unique approach to interviewing and joking at a celebrity’s expense was not usual; there is a sense of sadism that is undeniably inviting as we watch the rich and famous be questioned in such a manner.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie tells the story of dreamer Zach Galifianakis, in a mockumentary style following Galifianakis as he strives to climb the entertainment business ladder. When an interview with Matthew McConaughey goes disastrously wrong, CEO Will Ferell makes a deal with Galifianakis: if Zach films 10 interviews in 2 weeks then he can have his very own late-night talk show on prime time TV. With this goal in mind Galifianakis and his team of three, including his assistant, a camera operator, and a sound operator go on a road trip through America to track down available celebrities. The four friends work together to fulfill Zach’s dream of becoming a TV show host, working as a team and bumping into minor obstacles on the way.
Unfortunately Between Two Ferns: The Movie wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. The narrative is half hearted and never really felt like it got off the ground. The film focuses on the relationships of the four members of Galifianakis’s crew, the chemistry wasn’t exactly electric and the authenticity of their relationship was never really explored. It felt as though the movie was never reaching potential with uninspiring dialogue and tedious moments. With the original Between Two Ferns series, Galifianakis is so funny because he is also the target of humor as audiences laugh at him and not with him. Galifianakis’ unlikable character flourishes in the few minutes he has with celebrities using sensitive subjects and offensive jabs creating an environment of awkwardness as the celebrities battle to remain professional. Unfortunately this humor and character don’t translate well to a ‘friendship’ type story arc as the whole point of Zach’s persona is we all love to hate his condescending approach.
Fortunately for the cast and crew, the movie is saved through moments of hilarity as we are transported back to the familiar and cost-effective studio as new celebrities take their turn in front of the master of antagonisation. Between Two Ferns: The Movie includes stars such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tessa Thompson, Chrissy Teigen and Paul Rudd. Galifianakis does not hold back as he questions and mocks things such as religion, heritage and talent, creating some truly hilarious and entertaining segments that distract you from the mundane storyline happening in the background. Thankfully Galifianakis has not toned down his line of questioning for the movie’s sake, but instead remained loyal to the uncomfortable topics we as an audience have come to expect.
Overall Between Two Ferns: The Movie is just ok. Mediocre is certainly a good way to describe it as relationships never take off, emotions are never truly realized and passion is certainly thin on the ground. Honestly, without the comedic relief of interviews scattered throughout the movie audiences would quickly become bored and distracted as the narrative fails to grab any kind of attention. Not without it’s entertaining moments Between Two Ferns: The Movie does have some amusing quips and clever satirical gags that did make me chuckle, although admittedly quite sparingly. If you’re a fan of the show it is fun to see a fake behind the scenes but be wary that the true entertainment lies in the interviews. Ironically my favorite bit of the entire movie was in fact when it ended, as the audience are treated to the authentic outtakes of a Between Two Ferns interview.
Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.