As you probably know, the Funny or Die web series Between Two Ferns is pretty fantastic, even with a simple premise. An irritable and harried Zach Galifianakis hosts a talk show on a cheap stage (with a couple ferns) where he interviews major Hollywood stars. During the interviews Galifianakis asks his famed guests a series of inappropriate questions, many of which would likely cause them to stomp off the stage — if the whole thing weren’t staged. Galifianakis is hilarious in these sketches, appearing bored, naïve, even spiteful of his subjects’ celebrity status by exploiting the rumors and assumptions about them.
“Showers. Why don’t you take them?” he asks Brad Pitt in one episode. Ferns is a perfect foil for the classic talk show format. Why be nice to a celebrity when you can skewer them? It’s a lot more fun and a great idea… for five minutes.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie, now on Netflix, proves that just because a skit works in short form doesn’t mean it should be turned into a movie. Moreover, it shows that even if a project features Hollywood’s biggest names, you can’t rely on that alone; the script should still be in working order. Apparently, the team behind Ferns didn’t take a closer look at the rubble of bad movies Saturday Night Live has left in its path. The problem with these “adaptations” is the notion that a skit, however funny, can keep a whole film afloat. It can’t most of the time (Wayne’s World, similarly based on a low-budget TV program, is probably the most notable exception). In Fern’s case, the script feels like it was stitched together by a bunch of comedy writers taking a break from their day jobs. There are a lot of fingerprints on this project, and yet no distinct, singular voice. That might work for a skit, but not for a movie.
Here’s the story (which is stretching things to even call it that): Galifianakis wants to transcend his lot in life as the host of Between Two Ferns at its public access station in North Carolina to become a legitimate host on network television. When the station is damaged by a flood, boss Will Ferrell offers the aspiring star a deal- if he can conduct 10 interviews in two weeks, he’ll get him his own show. Are you feeling the struggle to tell a story here?
The rest of the movie involves our hero and his production team driving to Los Angeles to fulfill this challenge, where they stop off at different towns to interview celebrities. There are no discernible characters in Ferns. Galifianakis himself is constantly bitching, screaming and falling down while his production team merely watches him with a distant irony. Soon, we realize everyone in Ferns has one purpose — to fill the time between the celebrity interviews. We feel their boredom and their pain.
So, Fern’s narrative is non-existent, but we still have the interviews, right? Sort of. The comic actor interviews a lot of famous celebs in this movie, including Matthew McConaughey, Keanu Reeves, Peter Dinklage and Paul Rudd. However, their interplay doesn’t feel organic like it did in his best skits, it feels rehearsed this time. Additionally, director Scott Auckerman (a great comedian himself, having hosted Comedy Bang Bang for years) cuts away from the interviews too quickly. Did the filmmakers forget that timing and the discomfort of silence between interviewer and subject was one of the things that made them so funny in the first place?
Ferns has its moments. The interviews still contain a few good laughs, and the supporting players, such as the always affable Lauren Lapkus, exude a genuine earnestness. But by the end of the movie, you wonder why they didn’t just lose the attempted half-narrative and simply paste together 20 hilarious pre-existing celebrity interviews? It might not have been a “real movie,” per say, but unfortunately, neither is this.