Poor, meek Matt Furie. The San Francisco cartoonist doesn’t seem like he has an indecent or aggressive quality to his name, but his innocent creation Pepe the Frog, from his 2006 comic Boys Club, somehow wound up a twisted mascot for right-wing hate speech. The most engaging sections of Arthur Young’s documentary Feels Good Man attempt to chart that “somehow,” connecting dots between bodybuilding memes and increasingly troubled and angry 4chan trolls, all the way up to the President’s tweets. Young consults linguists, tech heads, and reporters, even an occultist for some reason, in a fascinating and detailed examination of how, gradually and sometimes painfully, something goes viral and changes our language. The aforementioned angry trolls and assorted other assholes (spare some particular rage for the Trump campaign guy or the stupid cryptocurrency jerk) are even given space to dig their own rhetorical graves in fruitless attempts to justify their awful behavior. You might need a shower after all of it.
Unfortunately, that’s only about 40 minutes worth of material in this wildly extended and only fitfully enlightening tale. There’s an entire other sturdy third of the film devoted to Pepe’s creation, and another devoted to his eventual redemption, and so Young is forced to pad out Feels Good Man with little animated sequences and original songs, not to mention the endless b-rolls of Furie fidgeting in lawyers’ offices and moping around his house looking sad. It’s obviously nice to get a sense of what a truly decent guy Furie is, and in the end it’s lovely to see him retake some measure of control over his art, but honestly those are just prologue and epilogue to the much more fascinating project that could have been.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2020 — Dispatch 2.