Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianikis is an internet series on Funny or Die in which Zach Galifianakis interviews celebrities, politicians and anyone with a profile, in a parody of the Hollywood interview. Instead of worshipping celebrity and asking pre-agreed questions that make the interviewee look good, he asks awkward, inappropriate questions intended to make the interviewee uncomfortable and elicit reactions. It’s a comedy series, and it was incredibly popular, with the episode in which he interviewed Hilary Clinton receiving over thirty million views in its first 24 hours.
Now, this internet series has made the transition to film, courtesy of Netflix. It’s not an obvious choice for a property to make into a movie, as it inherently doesn’t have much story that would need expanding on. However, this has been done before. Notably, Wayne’s World took the concept of comedy interviews and turned that into a movie, with great results.
The film was written by Scott Aukerman and the story was created by him and Galifianakis, and the direction they chose to take the movie was a fairly standard one. The titular character has a dream that he wants to become a big late night host like all of his heroes, but has no idea how he can make that dream happen. He’s stuck doing his public access interview show, which is bankrolled by Will Ferrell and Funny or Die, who serve up unknowing celebrities to be interviewed on his show because they find it funny, and it helps drive traffic to the website.
One day, an accident occurs at the studio and all hope seems lost. Will Ferrell give Galifianakis one last chance, if he can travel across America and produce enough interviews in two weeks, then he would give him a television show on a real network. This is the caveat for the plot of the film, which takes the structure of a road trip movie.
Interspersed throughout the movie, are of course, the interviews. These all last a few minutes each, and contain the typically incompetent and cringe-worthy style that made the internet series famous. The bulk of the comedy is in these segments, but unfortunately, it is pretty hit or miss. The early episodes of the show had a certain charm to them, the people knew it wasn’t a real interview, but they didn’t know what was going to happen and show the reactions could be pretty funny.
In this case, all of them have the same reaction, they are slightly annoyed by his questions, and get mildly more angry as the interview goes on. I don’t know whether or not they had a script or they still tried to capture real reactions, but by this point the format has run it’s course, and it just doesn’t really work. This results in the interviews becoming a little stale, as it ends up being a few minutes of questions that are supposedly inflammatory, with a celebrity pretending to act shocked or annoyed.
The better parts of the movie are actually outside of these interviews. Galifianakis character is shown as being incompetent in all parts of his life, he’s not very clever, pretty selfish, and unsympathetic. His co-workers, Carol Hunch played by Lauren Lapkus and Cameron ‘Cam’ Campbell played by Ryan Gaul take the brunt of his actions, leading to some decent dialogue and situations. There is a moment in which Lapkus’ character casually mentions that her father shot himself and her mother a few weeks ago, but that she had gotten over it, and this kind of dark humour can be pretty funny.
A major disappointment that I had with the film is that the story ended up being fairly generic. The actual structure of the road-trip was based around the cast becoming closer and developing a bond, then there is a moment of division, before they all learn a lesson and change for the better. It’s a story that’s been done a thousand times, and it isn’t interesting. If the only point of the story was that it was a vehicle for including different interviews then it succeeds in that regard, but because the interviews are not that great, the film ends up feeling very uneven.
I think they made a good attempt at trying to convert the format they had into a movie. If they had taken more risks with the story, and planned the interviews a little better, it may have come out differently. The cast was solid and the acting was decent, and it looks like a professional movie. Overall though, a couple of laughs spread out can not save what ends up being a fairly average comedy.