Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cosmo Jarvis, Dela Meskienyar, Jonny Lee Miller, Victor Garber , Jeremy Bobb, Dan Hedaya, Rhea Perlman, Ramsey Fargallah, Heather Raffo
Written by: Tim Sutton
Directed by: Tim Sutton
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 95
Date: 04/02/2021

Funny Face (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Through Thick and Grin

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like a gloomier Joker at a fraction of the budget and half the speed, this weird, pensive drama tells an eerily quiet and hypnotically effective story of discarded and powerless souls on the edge.

Saul (Cosmo Jarvis) is an anti-social man who regularly listens to New York Knicks games and is seething with rage over the fact that his grandparents' building is being sold and turned into a parking lot. One day a strange, creepily grinning mask appears and he takes to wearing it everywhere.

In a convenience store, a young woman, Zama (Dela Meskienyar) — who wears a niqab and is on the run from her strict aunt and uncle — is caught shoplifting. A masked Saul saves her and pays for her things, and the two misfits become friends. They steal a car and begin living on the streets. At the same time, Saul begins hatching a plan against the Developer (Jonny Lee Miller) who is upsetting his grandparents' lives.

Written and directed by Tim Sutton, Funny Face has a totally assured vision, a completely insulated and static New York, a place where things seem stuck and beauty is rare. Yet while the story lopes along in unmoving blocks, beauty does emerge. Saul has a favorite rooftop spot where he can sit and watch Coney Island, Zama goes shopping for a bright, yellow hijab to replace her dour, black niqab, and there's a dream of James Dean. Food is important as well, as when the couple devours gooey slices of pizza or delicious deli pickles.

Occasionally, Funny Face gives us glimpses of its villains, the wealthy and the elite (played by fine actors like Jeremy Bobb and Victor Garber), speaking in devilish tones in dim rooms, as if money were their blood. They are totally disconnected from the outside world. And the mask itself — which appears out of nowhere — is simply, and brilliantly designed, coaxing deep unease from its sinister grin.

To be sure, the movie progresses at such a low murmur that when Jarvis has his big moment, maniacally, feverishly, trying to explain his devotion to the Knicks, it may seem like one of the greatest performances you've ever seen. Also great are Dan Hedaya and Rhea Perlman in just a couple of scenes as the grandparents.

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