While it strays away from the dramatics, Funny Boy lives in the moment, shining through salient messages that live through the characters.
This review of Netflix film Funny Boy contains no spoilers. The drama was released on the streaming service on December 10, 2020.
Funny Boy is a strange release because while it was advertised as a Netflix film on the schedule, the drama is splashed on to the streaming service with no association to the brand whatsoever. Regardless, this a significant release and from the outset, it’s heavy on the themes, making it a midweek watch on the platform.
I will not profess to have extensive knowledge of the social turmoil of Sri Lanka in the 1970s or the events leading up to the 1983 uprisings, but Funny Boy centres itself on the political tensions escalating between the Sinhalese and Tamils. Like me, if you have a limited understanding of the social breakdowns in this country, then this film will at least give audiences a whistle-stop-tour history lesson.
You can tell effort has been made to reflect Sri Lanka; the filming locations are in the country itself and there’s a stillness present in the film, where the director allows the scenes and the background noise to play out rather than zoning in on character actions. This brings a certain reminder of Roma, that enjoyed the buzz and atmosphere that sits within the environment. Funny Boy is like that; the setting is a character in itself.
The story follows a student named Arje, who experiences a sexual awakening as a young boy and journeys it all the way to a teenager and falling in love with a classmate. His personal circumstances are compounded with the turmoil of the country at the time, forcing the character to navigate the times while staying true to himself. Earlier scenes show the young boy dressing up as a woman, with a particular acquaintance damning his choices.
So with the premise in mind, there’s plenty to unpick in Funny Boy. It decides to stray away from the dramatics. Despite the tensions, the film chooses to remain relatively calm; the director wants the audience to feel how escalating tensions were normal for the characters rather than it being a shock to the system. And I think that works rather well — it brings a certain naturalness to the story.
The main lesson to observe in Funny Boy is how, on a macro level, political decisions can severely impact people’s lives. We often become accustomed to our traditional and evolving political systems, yet often forget that a slight change in attitude or law in another country can have undesirable consequences. This film understands the moment; it understands the pressure bestowed on the main character. It’s a well-measured piece of work.
While it strays away from the dramatics, Funny Boy lives in the moment, shining through salient messages that live through the characters. Audiences should definitely add this to their streaming list.