Tag Archives: Maria Dizzia

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Nerd

Funny Pages

by George Wolf

It’s Christmas Day, and the one place Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) finds his comfort and joy is the comic book store.

And though the feature debut from writer/director Owen Kline may instantly earn a place alongside American Splendor, Ghost World and Crumb on the comic nerd movies Mt. Rushmore, a love for the funnies isn’t required for Funny Pages to cast its wild, weird spell.

Through massive bites of hamburger at a local New Jersey diner, Robert informs his parents (Maria Dizzia and Josh Pais, both perfectly exasperated) that he won’t be finishing his senior year of high school.

All Robert cares about is drawing comics, and he can work any boring job while he pursues his artistic dreams, so why not get right to it?

So he does, renting half a sweltering room in Trenton and working a few hours for Cheryl (Marcia DeBonis), a public defender with a list of several clients. And as luck would have it, one of those clients, Wallace (Matthew Maher), used to work for the famous Image Comics.

Sure, Wallace is angry, aggressive and openly hostile, but knowing him puts Robert one step closer to where he wants to be. And that means Robert wants to stay close to Wallace, whatever the consequences.

And there are plenty of awkward, often hilarious consequences.

Kline (son of Pheobe Cates and Kevin) develops memorably offbeat characters you don’t let go of easily. Zolghadri brings a wonderful zest to Robert’s coming-of-age, showcasing a sweetly resonant mix of resolve, confidence and vulnerability.

And from Wallace to roommates, from co-workers to best friends, there’s a universe of weirdos populating Robert’s journey up from square zero. Kline envelopes you in so many layers of nerdery that the film races past disbelief and circles back, crashing cars and dropping pants with a surprisingly lived-in abandon.

In the early moments of Funny Pages, Robert’s enthusiastic art teacher proclaims that his art should “always subvert!” That sounds like something Kline might have been told some time ago.

I’d say he was paying attention.

Talkin’ Bout My Generation

While We’re Young

by George Wolf

So far, Hollywood’s attempts to address the social media revolution have fluctuated between lackluster and downright embarrassing (Men, Women and Children? Yikes). While We’re Young gets it more right than most, thanks to less of the usual microscope and more of a layered, universal narrative.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach is able to weave the contrasts between older technology “immigrants” and the younger tech “natives” into a larger, utterly charming overview of shifting generations and the humor in realizing you’re not so young anymore.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cordelia (Naomi Watts) are a happy, childless couple in New York who suddenly become friends with Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a pair of hipsters about twenty years younger.

In an instant, Cordelia and Darby are taking hip hop dance classes and Josh is shopping for fedoras with Jamie, then cranking “Eye of the Tiger” to get pumped up for a business meeting (even though he admits listening to the same song back “when it was just bad”). They ditch their longtime friends who now have young children, and convince each other they are free spirits blessed with limitless opportunity.

As Josh slowly begins to look a bit deeper into Jamie’s motives for hanging with him, their interplay comes to resemble Baumbach confronting his younger self, along with the futile anxieties of growing old “gracefully.” Baumbach seems perfectly comfortable in this new skin, crafting a film that is often smart, funny, and bittersweet all at once. His work has never been more accessible.

The characters are all sharply drawn and relatable, fleshed out by a talented cast that lets Baumbach touch on a variety of serious topics with a confident blend of laughter and nuance. The performances are all dead on, with Driver shining in the film’s most complex role.

Baumbach does risk a cop out with the convenient plot turn that comes near the finish, but it’s not nearly enough to derail the knowing smile that While We’re Young is bound to leave you wearing.

And that looks better than a fedora on almost all of us…of a certain age.