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As introduced in a series of Funny Or Die sketches that started in 2008, “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis” has long succeeded utilizing an extremely simple parody premise: take the late night show celebrity interview format, and have it entirely orchestrated by an idiotic, unprofessional asshole. Straight-forward as the approach might be, though, the results have been consistently hilarious for years, as Galifianakis as has endlessly succeeded in generating some truly uncomfortable conversations with some of the most notable people in the world – all of whom are doing everything in their power to contain a particular deep loathing that they clearly have for everything about the encounter.
Of course, as amazing as the shows have been, it’s not exactly an idea that directly lends itself to a feature film, but that challenge didn’t stop the making of director Scott Auckerman’s Between Two Ferns: The Movie. And the results are… fine. There is a legitimate attempt made to structure a narrative around the concept, creating a situation where Zach Galifianakis has to go on a cross-country interview tour, but while those efforts wind up being mostly mediocre, the experience is ultimately buoyed just by everything that made the internet series work from the start.
Set up as a documentary, the movie starts by revealing that Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis is actually a bit of local access programming produced from a small television station in Flinch, North Carolina, and it’s a program that is in serious trouble. While Galifianakis has dreams of one day becoming a network late show host, the interviews he conducts are absolutely terrible – and things really come to a head when a plumbing issue nearly results in the death of Matthew McConaughey.
Following the incident, producer Will Ferrell, the head of Funny or Die, gives the host one last chance to both save his show and try to achieve his dreams. With a limited crew that includes his producer personal “getter,” Carol (Lauren Lapkus), his camera operator, Cam (Ryan Gaul), and sound mixer, Boom Boom (Jiavani Linayao), Galifianakis is told that he has two weeks to go across America recording a series of interviews, and should he succeed he would be given his chance at the big time.
The plot is very clearly a thin excuse for Between Two Ferns: The Movie to set up a string of interviews that allows a smorgasbord of A-lister cameos, but it works because each sit down very much captures the magic of the original series. As you would expect and hope, the questions that Zach Galifianakis asks are wildly stupid and inappropriate (making you wonder how any of the material was actually captured without anyone breaking), and even the classic repeat jokes that have been employed for over a decade – such as never being able to pronounce anyone’s names – still manage to earn a chuckle. And while most interview subjects have really the same general attitude about the man they’re forced to sit down with, many of them offer some fantastic reaction and comebacks.
Obviously what’s meant to differentiate between watching Between Two Ferns: The Movie and simply binge-watching the existing clips online is the material that binds all of it together, but that’s where the feature disappoints. It never gets boring, and the characters are all likeable enough, but it also all feels undercooked compared to the deep-cutting wit that is exercised when cameras are rolling on the titular show. Certain bits are introduced, such as growing money issues as the road trip continues, Cam’s intense dislike for Zach, and Boom Boom’s assumption that every celebrity is hitting on her, but they never get real opportunities for pay off. You get the sense that the filmmakers firmly believe that people will mostly be watching the film for the interviews, and while that’s probably accurate, it still leaves you wanting more.
There are parts of Between Two Ferns: The Movie that are as funny if not funnier than any comedy released this year, and any Zach Galifianakis fan will be able to connect with its off-beat sensibilities and humor. There just really isn’t much more to it than that. It’s an enjoyable 82 minutes and worth the experience for those who enjoy the series – just don’t expect to carry it with you forever.