Directed by: Tim Sutton. Starring: Cosmo Jarvis, Dela Meskienyar, Jonny Lee Miller. Runtime: 1h 35 min. This film showed at the Reel Love Film Festival on February 12, 2021.
Funny Face is a bizarre film, one that truly cannot be put in one genre. It’s anarchic and brings the drama in its character study of one of its main characters Saul (Cosmo Jarvis) and brings the crime in Saul donning a mask and wanting vengeance against The Developer (Jonny Lee Miller) who is demolishing Saul’s grandparents’ home to turn it into a parking lot.
In ways, this very much could have just gone down the road of disturbed loners who just break (think Taxi Driver or recently Joker), but writer-director Tim Sutton flips the script by also making this an unorthodox romance. Saul finds Zama (Dela Meskienyar) as she tries to steal food from a convenience store and he pays for it. From this gesture, they just hang out for a couple of days, learning that they’re both struggling in their own ways and try to heal together.
I say it’s an unorthodox romance as – besides dancing – it feels closer to a sincere platonic relationship, but that doesn’t stop them from creating a great chemistry as they’re a fascinating pair to watch. Cosmo Jarvis is great with the strange energy he brings, as well as some of the anger, showcased in a passionate rant caused by his beloved New York Knicks losing right at the buzzer while listening on the radio in a stolen car. “You can always just root for the [Brooklyn] Nets,” says Zama. That line sends him into a monologue that really defines his feelings about gentrification and the bitterness he holds about the change to the neighbourhood where the Nets’ stadium was built, and especially his bitterness about his grandparents’ home.
The yelling reminds me of Sandler in Uncut Gems, but otherwise the performance is Jarvis’ own and he elevates the film. Dela Meskienyar, too, is solid as Zama working mostly off of Jarvis’ energy; a quiet observer as his world seems to be collapsing, as we learn she’s just trying to get away from her own world as she’s now living with her aunt and uncle after her father died. Together, they’re electric and really make me like the film better.
On the other side, Jonny Lee Miller’s villainous millionaire developer emphasizes Saul’s point of New York only caring about money. This is especially highlighted in a scene where a business associate pitches a development to a table of investors, saying rehearsed ways of how filthy rich they will be (“I’m talking about stamping your name on the public’s forehead rich”) as The Developer sits back and nods. Somehow, this man is more unsettling than Saul, at one point huffing and puffing after a bitter meeting with his father (a brief appearance by Victor Garber) as he angrily shouts “Money!” in his car.
I found myself a bit disappointed by the ending, however, as I’m a patient viewer when I think it’s building towards something memorable. Instead, this does not sizzle but simply peters out. However, in the build-up to that, Funny Face has a magnetism and rhythm to the film in its pacing, assisted heavily by Phil Mossman’s score that, besides Cosmo Jarvis’ performance, was my favourite part about this film.
The score makes this dreamlike and it has a directorial style where the film lives firmly between either empty or dreamy. It’s several days of characters doing nothing; almost like an anarchic Richard Linklater film. Most scenes that feel random are fine because of their mood, but others just feel hollow, sometimes a product of the lack of dialogue in these moments. The chemistry between Jarvis and Meskienyar and strong scenes make up the difference, but not enough to make Funny Face truly great.