Sunday, June 20, 2010

Underrated Movie #78: Funny Bones

Title: Funny Bones
Year: 1995
Director: Peter Chelsom
Writers: Chelsom and Peter Flannery
Stars: Oliver Platt, Lee Evans, Jerry Lewis, Leslie Caron

The Story: Surreal, funny, heartbreaking magic-realist comedy-drama about a failed American comedian who absconds to the faded resort town of Blackpool, England, where his father performed when he was a child, hoping to steal material from the local comics. Instead, he uncovers his father’s secrets and discovers he has a monstrously funny half-brother.

How it Came to be Underrated: This movie seemed to announce Chelsom as a major writer/director, but his follow-up (The Mighty) was a flop and his next (Town and Country) was a notorious mega-flop, so he was done, and this movie was unfortunately forgotten.

Why It’s Great:

  1. And it wasn’t just Chelsom. This movie also seemed like it would turn Platt and Evans into major stars. They both give intense, heartbreaking lead performances. Platt has been too often relegated to “fat friend” roles, which was perhaps inevitable, but the utter disappearance of Evans is stranger. He’s a revelation here, like a strange combination of Sean Penn and Jim Carrey. He’s been rarely seen again, which makes this one of the great one-off performances I've seen.
  2. And the great roles don’t end there-- this movie gave us the best later work for both Lewis and Caron! You can see why top talent wanted to work with Chelsom after this, but he didn’t seem to have the temperament for Hollywood. Maybe he’ll manage a comeback soon and pay off the promise of this movie.
  3. It must seem like I spend a lot of time defending cliché on this blog, but make no mistake, I love a movie that breaks all the rules. This movie is constantly lurching off in new directions (and shifting in tone) so you never have any idea what’s going to happen next. I should have been a big mess, so it’s totally exhilarating to watch it all pay off. Ultimately, the movie centers on a dilemma we’ve truly never seen before: “A boxer kills a guy in the ring and he maybe gets another fight. A clown kills a guy in the ring? …You have to admit that that’s bad box office.” Now that's an unique problem.
  4. This is a funny movie, but it’s more interested in being about comedy, which is an inherently painful subject. The opening sequence, where Platt bombs in Vegas, is as excruciating as a horror film. The whole movie explores the symbiotic relationship between comedy and brutality. As Evans rhetorically asks, “You can’t pull your punches, can you?”

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Lewis first proved that he was ready to be serious with Scorsese’s King of Comedy. The existential wretchedness of English seaside resort towns was also explored in the great film noir Brighton Rock.

How Available Is It?: The DVD has no features, but it looks nice and shows off the gorgeous cinematography of Eduardo Serra.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Mr. Bat Sings!


Jeff said...

I love this movie -- I've never met anyone else who has heard of it, much less seen it.

Unknown said...

I also love this movie. My wife her best friend and I saw it when it first came out in '95 and raved about it to everyone. I saw it again today and was pleasantly surprised how it stood the test of time. It is a movie with different layers and the gags are spectacular along with the great music. It is a film unlike any other I have seen and I still highly recommend it. The valve radio gag, the ghost train, the kid with the foot on the beach, the psychiatrist interview, the restaurant gag, the sway pole. Its two hours of excellent entertainment and escapism that for some strange reason you will not find on any list of top comedies on the internet.
It was certainly underrated.

Unknown said...

I seem to specialize in making 'neglected movies'. My last neglected movie was Hector and the Search for Happiness, one I'm proud of. Anyhow, thanks for listing me. Peter Chelsom.

Anthony Teague said...

The comedian Freddie Davies also plays an important role in this movie, and stories of his grandfather, Jack Herbert (a variety and revue comic) helped inspire the film. I worked with Freddie on his autobiography, also entitled Funny Bones, which covers his career from soup to nuts, with a substantial amount about the making of the film.

michael said...

This movie is one that my family has watched over and over and re-enacted around the dinner table, not neglected not underrated in our house!

Packagly said...

This movie is one that my family has looked after and over and once again established around the supper table, not ignored and underestimated in our home!