Scott Aukerman’s Between Two Ferns: The Movie barely qualifies as a movie, in much the same way that Between Two Ferns barely qualifies as a TV show. The long running Funny or Die sketch featuring Zach Galifianakis as a hilariously inept local access celebrity interviewer has since going viral circa 2008, and has scored appearances by such disparate celebrities as Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Part of the show’s charm has always been its ability to poke fun at notoriously humorless celebrities (like Sean Penn), while slyly skewering the idea of the fawning celebrity interview, allowing celebrities to laugh at their own foibles and personas.
Of course, what has historically made these interviews so funny is the suggestion that the celebrities aren’t in on the joke; robbed of their context and strung together into a feature length film, they lose some of the bite that comes with concision.
Yet what is funny for a six-minute webisode isn’t necessarily as funny when stretched thin across 90 minutes, the very existence of this film seemingly proving that Netflix loves to throw its money at projects. Galifinakis builds in a loose plot here about his station facing bankruptcy unless he can record 10 celebrity interviews in a week, and so he hits the road with a documentary film crew from Appalachian State University (shout out my alma mater) to track down as many celebrities as he can. The plot doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but that’s also very much beside the point. Galifinakis’ gauche interviews are the highlight here, and he manages to pull of some gut-busters, including a wonderfully awkward encounter with an un-amused David Letterman, and others with Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hamm, and Keanu Reeves. Of course, what has historically made these interviews so funny is the suggestion that the celebrities aren’t in on the joke; robbed of their context and strung together into a feature length film, they lose some of the bite that comes with concision. But Galifinakis’ brand of bumbling anti-comedy humor remains unencumbered, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the absurd silliness of it all. Between Two Ferns: The Movie often feels like a throwaway fan film, the product of a bunch of buddies making a movie in their backyard for the hell of it, and that amateurish, no-fucks-given attitude is actually part of its charm – it’s a refreshingly silly thumb in the eye of self-seriousness celebrity culture. So while it may often feel like a barely structured shrug of a movie, it does at least manage to do its job and mine some genuine laughs out of its admittedly thin material.