“I’ve got three kids and a wife. What have you got besides two ferns?”
Over the years, Zach Galifianakis’ wonderfully hilarious Between Two Ferns web series has increased its scope in terms of the profile of its guests, grabbing the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Barack Obama. Now the series increases its goals in terms of turning a five-minute talk show web series into a feature length narrative film. Adding a plot or backstory to Between Two Fernsmay seem incredibly unnecessary or a reason for concern, but rest assured, adding a real sense of story, expanding the sandbox of this universe, and the pathos of Zach’s character is maybe the best thing the property has ever done.
Since the scope and length of Between Two Ferns: The Movie are such massive stretches from the show’s typical framework, it tries to use this time to analyze and dissect Between Two Ferns in as many ways as possible, whether it’s the show’s backstory or Zach’s adoration for the talk show format. The interesting slant here is this movie playfully posits that this is also Zach’s origin story and that the discovery of him through Between Two Ferns is what’s led to his fame.
Not only that, but that people only watch Zach out of a morbid fascination with his grotesque nature. The film operates under the guise of an earnest documentary as Zach tries to educate the world on his passion project and achieve his dream, but very quickly everything goes off the rails. The film never loses the documentary format, but the style does become more chaotic as Zach gets deeper into his journey.
As much as this film does give a narrative to Zach’s shenanigans, it also ostensibly delivers many episodes of the web series within the movie, all of which feature some very satisfying guest appearances (it’s honestly an avalanche of cameos and writer/director Scott Aukerman surely dug deep through his extensive Comedy Bang Bang connections). It’s also fair to say that practically every one-liner that Zach delivers to these celebrities during their interviews is laugh out loud funny (the outtakes during the credits are even better). As sprawling as this project gets at times, it’s comforting that it still features these moments that take it all back to its roots.
Zach’s obliviousness towards his guests is often the brunt of the jokes in the Between Two Ferns web series, but that inept character really gets a chance to grow here. As silly as all of this is, there’s actually a real heart to Zach’s mission to create something that can entertain people and bring them joy that doesn’t also turn him into a punchline. Zach’s antics are consistently entertaining, but because Zach is so prone to stumble through these important moments, he’s given a helpful support staff here that try to smooth out his edges.
Carol Hunch (Lauren Lapkus), is a major player in this story as Zach’s hapless producer, as well as Cameron Campbell (Ryan Gaul), his aggravated cameraman, and “Boom Boom” De Laurentis (Jiavani Linayao), Zach’s sound mixer, who helps keep things positive. Lapkus, Gaul, and Linayao are fantastic performers and they work very well off of Zach as they all struggle to keep this show afloat. Galifianakis can easily carry a scene on his own, but the moments where these three are all together are some of the best in the movie and their presence here is a smart addition rather than this just being a solo vehicle for Galifianakis. Outside of the film’s core cast and the rampant celebrity cameos, comedians like Edi Patterson, Paul Rust, and Paul F. Tompkins—all Comedy Bang Bang regulars—also help flesh out the film in sporadic doses.
Zach and his crew are put in a situation where they must take their fledgling North Carolina-based public access show across the country to interview the best possible guests and obtain success in the process. The team gets progressively worn down, even if they do bond more as a team. They continue to hit roadblocks throughout their journey, but none are ever dwelt on for too long. In some cases the film even mines comedy out of how quickly these conflicts or accomplishments get resolved. Aukerman’s script definitely pokes fun at these “on the road” self-discovery films more than it tries to be sincere. At the same time, none of this feels extraneous to the story either. This isn’t a film that drags things out or struggles to reach 90 minutes.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie builds a lot of momentum to when Zach and his crew hit the road, but from that point on the film falls into an almost lazy rhythm. The movie never stops being entertaining, but it basically becomes a bunch of Between Two Ferns interviews that are split up between road trip interstitials as everyone tries to reach their next destination. Zach gains guidance and tips from celebrities along the way, but more often than not finds himself at odds with them. All of this material is extremely funny and it’s great to see these big stars play these exaggerated versions of themselves, but it just feels a little easy.
Aukerman is a brilliant writer that has pulled off some complex ideas in the past, so perhaps I was expecting something that got more reflexive with the subject matter. There could have been a less formulaic structure that takes Zach even further out of his comfort zone, but in a way the film itself achieves this by merely existing. The fact that there are about a dozen great interviews, plenty of strong comedy in between, and that this even works as a film should be the takeaway here, not that it doesn’t try harder to tell a different kind of story. It just wants to be silly and make you laugh and it more than succeeds.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie turns out to be surprisingly simple in nature. The entertainment doesn’t come out of any plot hurdles, crazy twists, or sweeping examples of character development, but just the ability that Zach and his misfit team have to ruffle the feathers of Hollywood’s biggest players.
A weaker film would falter with this bare bones premise and even though Between Two Ferns: The Movie doesn’t become an all-time classic (or even Galifianakis’ best comedy), the writing and performances are still so damn funny that it’s hard to not enjoy this movie. Nobody may have asked for Between Two Ferns: The Movie, but you’ll absolutely be glad that it exists.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.