Maybe I have to do more.
One person’s garbage is another’s treasure … or something like that. And if Tim Sutton‘s Funny Face is any indication, there’s no place in the world who understands those sentiments more than Brooklyn, New York. Whether we’re talking about rundown homes where impoverished families survive being torn down for a shiny new parking lot or a once great basketball team making you wonder if the owners are lifelong fans of its greatest rivals desperately trying to ensure they never make the playoffs again or a garish plastic mask found in the streets, everything is something and nothing at the same time. Which perspective is right? Which perspective is for the greater good? Does it even matter when beauty is defined by the powerful rather than the masses? No.
Look no further than Sutton’s nameless supervillain (as played by Jonny Lee Miller) screaming “Money!” three times in a row to nobody in the backseat of his chauffeured car to realize the message alluded to above isn’t being presented with anything resembling subtlety. Molded more in the form of Robert Moses than Donald Trump (I’m not sure if the latter was rendered into a cartoon by “The Apprentice” or if he never had teeth beyond magazine spreads reveling in his gold-plated everything)—one name-checked and the other included via photography—Miller’s real estate developer is the type of monster anyone who has ever worked a day in his/her life knows too well. He’s a man without scruples, boundaries, or humility. And his legacy is strip-mining NYC for profit.
Who’s going to stop him? His father (Victor Garber)? Doubtful. Not only does his hubristic greed make it so he’d rather bankroll this destruction if only to say “I told you so” when it falls apart, but Sutton even has the gall to make him sympathetic (in the abstract, of course) by reminding us that his generation of monsters at least (maybe) tried to build a community while filling their pockets. Will his partners? No. They’re too interested in their own capacity to send their kids to boarding schools and vacation half the year in exotic locales to even think about getting close enough to let him take them down with the ship. The only people willing to call him out at all are the ones he hurts.
Enter Saul (Cosmo Jarvis): the witting yet anonymous patron saint of sufferers. Here’s a guy who screams about how loving the Knicks when they stink is what makes him a true New Yorker because it proves how success is never more important than identity. The Knicks losing is almost how it should be considering New Yorkers are also in a rut. Why would one not reflect the other? Why would each loss at the buzzer not throw Saul into a fit of violent rage thanks to the PTSD of owning that failure in his bones? Even so, however, he knows something needs to change. And if the court can’t provide hope for his kind, maybe he can by donning a weird plastic mask to be reborn a hero.
Like most comic books, heroism is conflated with vigilantism. What can he truly do besides beat-up or perhaps kill men like Miller (the fact he has no name makes me want to call him Jordan Chase, the calm sociopathic version he played on “Dexter” of this unhinged psychopathic character)? Nothing. Well. Not nothing. He can also put himself on the line for the disadvantaged like him by becoming a “white savior” who goes from being mocked for never having a girlfriend to buying a similar outsider type in Muslim teen Zama (Dela Meskienyar) food, shoes, and clothes. I guess she’s run away from home because her guardians (aunt and uncle) aren’t her parents … I’m honestly not sure of her role here besides as Saul’s needed angel whisperer.
Those are the players. That is the game. Miller wreaks havoc by existing (when not watching naked women pleasure themselves). Saul is working up the nerve to go full-on Taxi Driver for the little guy in a way that will surely feel great despite doing absolutely zero for their cause. And Zama is both the latter’s chauffeur (he doesn’t know how to drive) in a stolen car and the one thing grounding him to a reality gradually falling apart at the hands of futility and frustration. Add an intentionally laborious (but gorgeous) pace throwing us in the middle of what isn’t quite a concrete conflict so the details can find focus as we progress and it’s easy to find yourself preparing for a bloody end of Shakespearean proportions.
Know that Sutton doesn’t necessarily meet those expectations. Also know that once you approach the midway point, those expectations shift considering the air of defeat has all but suffocated everyone on-screen (as well as some of us watching). As I said before, the Taxi Driver treatment isn’t going to solve anything. Satisfaction here isn’t therefore Miller’s demise as much as it’s Saul’s (and Zama’s by extension) salvation. It’s about embodying that Knicks persona wherein losing on the court of life doesn’t make you a loser off of it. Maybe the Sauls of this world are being shit on, but they still have the potential for happiness regardless. And that’s something the Millers of the world will never possess in their unyielding and unattainable pursuit of more.
What does that mean for Funny Face the film? I’m honestly unsure. It’s more interesting than it is good. Its performances (Jarvis is steadily becoming a must-see actor no matter the project) outshine the plot in which they’re stuck. And its motivations are commendable albeit obtusely niche (I wonder if this is the type of movie only Brooklynites can fully comprehend). All those things add up to an experience that I have to recommend even if the whole can’t quite match its pieces. Its eccentricities automatically make it a better Joker than Joker and its slice of life entrance and exit dealing more with character than narrative render it better than most fare that comes our way. Did I like it? I’m not sure Sutton wants me to.
courtesy Lucas Gath