BOB FUNK (2009)
Starring Michael Leydon Campbell, Rachael Leigh Cook, Grace Zabriskie, Amy Ryan, Eddie Jemison, Stephen Root, Alex Desert, Ron Canada, Lucy Davis, Nadia Dajani, Terri Mann and Tania Gunadi.
Screenplay by Craig Carlisle.
Directed by Craig Carlisle.
Distributed by Unified Pictures. 104 minutes. Rated R.
It’s a bit of a delicate balance daring to allow an audience to strongly dislike your main character for the first half of a film before trying to find redemption for him.
It’s a narrative trick that Bob Funk is only partially successful at.
In Alcoholics Anonymous and many similar groups, they often say that one must truly hit rock bottom before they seek help. This statement is undoubtedly true. Many people have to lose everything before they try to come up for air.
The first part of Bob Funk is Bob at rock bottom.
During these early scenes, the title character of Bob Funk seems to be an unrepentant asshole. We watch him whining, yelling, cursing, fighting, vomiting, mistreating his family and co-workers, avoiding work, sexually harassing employees, sitting at a bar and hitting on anyone who will even look his way.
This is our intro to the guy and it makes it hard to like him from the jump. Even his drinking problem, which will become so important in later scenes, is treated with kid gloves. The audience can’t really tell if he is a drunk or just a creep. He definitely drinks, but he rarely seems completely out of control. We also don’t know what brought him to this point. It is vaguely suggested that his wife leaving has set Bob on the course to self-destruction, but that is only other characters’ opinion. We never see what he was like before and how… or if… he has really changed.
This makes his final realization that he needs help – after a lost weekend that is filmed in a jumbled haze that is representative of his loss of control in life – seem a bit sudden and a bit too fast.
In fact, the two parts of the film – Bob as a drunken asshole and then Bob as a sober and relatively nice guy trying to make amends – feel sort of disconnected. Occasionally the asshole will show up for a little while in the later Bob and once in a blue moon the early Bob will seem to have a soul, but mostly it is hard to believe this is the same guy.
Which is a shame, because each part is interesting on its own merits.
Bob Funk is a bit of a showcase for its mostly unknown lead actor Michael Leydon Campbell and he does run the gamut – from snarky to petulant to surprisingly tender. Campbell has the near impossible task of making us like Bob no matter how much of a creep he can be and he mostly pulls it off.
In the first half of the film he is all anger, testosterone and disdain. Bob is the VP of Sales of his family futon business, but he obviously hates the job. He ignores his boss and mother (that great underused character actress Grace Zabriskie) and torments his younger, neurotic brother (Eddie Jemison). He also hits on clients (Amy Ryan from Gone Baby Gone) and a new hire apparently brought in to take his job – a just-a-little-too-understanding character played by Rachael Leigh Cook. Then he spends every night in a depressing local taproom, hanging with a friend, philosophizing with the bartender and hitting on every woman who enters.
Later, when he is demoted to janitor and finally decides to get control of his life, the movie and the character downshift into a relatively charming romantic comedy mode as Bob tries to win over Rachael Leigh Cook’s character after having made an ass out of himself to her in his old incarnation. Bob becomes nicer, more philosophical, brave and giving (except for one brief scene with his therapist where the old asshole returns briefly.)
The change is rather charming though I can’t deny that I didn’t totally buy it. (Then again, I didn’t quite buy that he was as big a jerk as he acted in the first half.) Still, it was a nice turn for the film to make, and even if Bob does not completely earn his life turnaround it is nice to think it may happen that way.
Bob Funk was the first film written and directed by stage vet Craig Carlisle and frankly it does have a strong theatrical feel. I mean that both in the best possible way and the worst. It has interesting interactions, intriguing characters and a very limited and insular world.
It also doesn’t work in some parts – it gets a little claustrophobic sometimes, a little talky and a little light on the action. There is also a montage of several main characters in their beds and they all have the same futon, same end table and same lamp. You can pull stuff like that off on stage, but it doesn’t work on the big screen.
Still, though it is imperfect, Bob Funk is a surreal and interesting little character piece. It won’t change anybody’s life, but sometimes movies don’t have to. Sometimes it’s enough to let us get to know what makes a person tick – even if we don’t always like it. Bob Funk may not always be good company, but he is never dull to be around.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 6, 2009.