Feel the Fern

Zach Galifianakis Pulls off 90 Minutes of Celeb-Baiting

“Alright, alright, alright,” the portly, bearded interviewer says to actor Matthew McConaghey. “Sorry, I was just reading the box office returns for your last three movies.” McConaghey just stares in response, but on this show, the answer isn’t the point. The Hollywood stars are all foils for the host, who mauls their careers and personal foibles to the sounds of easy listening horns (lifted from the soundtrack for Taxi Driver, no less). “Who do you think will accidentally starve himself to death first,” he asks McConaughey, “you or Christian Bale?” He’s slapped Bradley Cooper, tickled Michael Cera, shushed President Obama, and sneezed explosively into Jon Hamm’s lap. “I’m allergic to ferns,” he explains.

 

Zach Galifianakis has been deadpan-dissing fellow stars in faux interviews on Between Two Ferns since 2010, and Netflix finally adapted the popular web series into a feature-length film. In the mockumentary, Will Ferrell plays a coke-snorting, click-obsessed Funny or Die executive who books celebrities on “Ferns” as a joke. At his command, Galifianakis hits the road for ten celebrity interviews to achieve his dream of hosting a primetime TV talk show–and redeem himself after nearly drowning McConaughey.

The movie succeeds because it sticks to the original cable-access vibe: BTF co-creator and director Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show, Comedy Bang! Bang!) kept the show’s cheap sets and low budget, with few special effects or big film locations. And in a continuing indictment of breathless, repetitive Hollywood press junkets, stars like Benedict Cumberbatch, Brie Larson and Paul Rudd are still lining up to get savaged by the anti-Seacrest.

Making a 90-minute movie out of a three-minute skit seems like a tall order if you’ve seen most SNL movies, but the road trip structure carries the show’s episodic feel. Just try not to think too hard about the probability of trip-linking 10 celebrity interviews in 14 days in random towns across the country. Galifianakis’ futzy corduroy persona pushes along the zanier moments, like stealing Faberge eggs from Peter Dinklage’s mansion, and, as usual, everyone else in his universe is eternally game.

The film pans out to introduce the North Carolina public access station that airs his show, Zach’s mockumentary filmmaker, and his faithful TV crew. Lauren Lapkus stands out as beleaguered assistant Carol, who dreams of playing the trumpet and replaces Zach’s treasured ferns as she kills them, unbeknownst to him. The broader moments of conflict and tenderness feel a little flimsy, but like the particleboard furniture on Galifianakis’s set, they’re just a cheap backdrop for his brutal brilliance.

Galifianakis has publicly opined that Between Two Ferns may have “run its course” because of its “one-note” appeal. But with a successful 4-season run on the FX show Baskets, the comic shows he can riff extensively off the simplest formula. Now that Between Two Ferns been transmogrified into a Netflix feature, the show may find a new direction… or keep collecting YouTube clicks on its old interviews until it fades into obscurity.

Y’know. Funny or die.

BETWEEN TWO FERNS, 2019

Rachel Llewellyn

Rachel Llewellyn is a saucy media mercenary who's worked at Curve Magazine and Girlfriends Magazine in San Francisco, and ghost-edited two noir novels. She's also translated academic material, written corporate website content, taught adult school, and produced morning television news. Rachel lives in Bakersfield, California, where she hikes with her dog and pushes paper in the government sector.

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