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Set among aspiring comedians and other creative types in Los Angeles, This Isn’t Funny finds fresh angles within a standard rom-com template. The screenplay by Katie Page and Paul Ashton, who have explored coupledom in the web series Don’t Try This at Home, gets beneath the breezy surface with wit and heart. Portraying a mid-20s couple whose new romance hits major snags, the writing-producing duo have charm to burn.
Ashton directs the workmanlike production with an eye for non-obvious SoCal locations and a feel for the angsty uncertainties that plague smart, funny people. Featuring savvy supporting turns from familiar faces — Mimi Rogers, Anthony LaPaglia, Gia Carides, David Pasquesi — the movie is a strong calling card for the leads, both making their feature debut, and should connect with audiences on digital platforms after its single-screen Los Angeles run.
Key among the film’s strengths is its ability to etch full-blooded characters in a few deft brushstrokes. Of the central couple, Page’s stand-up comic Eliot is the more career-focused, a point brought home during the vehicular collision that serves as their hostile meet cute. When Ashton’s Jamie slams into Eliot’s car, he’s on a bicycle, putting him near the bottom of the L.A. caste system. The world-traveling Aussie transplant seems in no particular hurry to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. For now he’s managing a wheatgrass emporium called Juicy Town, where the employees include his conceptual artist roommate (Edi Gathegi) and an emphatically earnest new age jester (LaPaglia).
Eliot, on the other hand, is a regular performer at L.A.’s Cafe Club Fais Do-Do, and has applied for a writing job with a late-night TV personality (Carides, in take-no-prisoners mode). Ashton finds just the right story-enhancing proportions for the stand-up material he weaves into the film. In addition to Page’s turn as Eliot, comics Beth Stelling, Will Weldon and Ahmed Bharoocha play characters who perform at the club. Their comedy is sharp, and cinematographer Peter Borosh captures their sets in handsome black-and-white that accentuates the sense of being in the spotlight. Performance excerpts over the end credits are worth sticking around for.
In another setting, the self-conscious jokiness of the dialogue might come off as artificial, but with this set of characters it feels perfectly natural. Like most good comedy, the quipping also reveals whole worlds of unease without lapsing into psychologizing. But the romance taps into a wholly unexpected, and welcome, emotional undercurrent with Eliot’s struggle to determine whether the anti-anxiety meds she’s been on for half her life are truly necessary. Her new awareness is spurred in large part by feelings of unaccustomed intensity, high and low, sexual and non, that she experiences with Jamie. That’s an emotional territory beyond the reach of most romantic comedies.
As Eliot’s intrusively caring mother, delivering career advice and all-purpose worries over the phone, Rogers is spot-on, while Pasquesi provides a different form of parental disappointment as Eliot’s father, a lit professor with a distaste for pop culture. Eliot’s parents are never seen together — whether or not that’s a function of scheduling on a shoestring budget, it adds an interesting subtext. Jamie’s folks (Mark Harelik, Angie Milliken), on the other hand, do show up side by side, if only to tell him they’re splitting up.
The film stumbles into a couple of sappy moments when it reaches for big family-theme lessons in forgiveness involving the parental units, but mainly This Isn’t Funny is insightful and quick-witted, a romance that take chances while its lovers learn to do the same.
Production companies: Easy Open Prods., Metropolitan Entertainment, Not Bucket Films, Underman/Omega Girl Inc.
Cast: Katie Page, Paul Ashton, Edi Gathegi, Anthony LaPaglia, Mimi Rogers, David Pasquesi, Gia Carides, Beth Stelling, Ahmed Bharoocha, Will Weldon, Mark Harelik, Angie Milliken
Director: Paul Ashton
Screenwriters: Paul Ashton, Katie Page
Producers: Lije Sarki, Paul Ashton, Katie Page, Maria Menounos, Keven Undergaro
Executive producers: Ian Keiser, Leigh Jones, Pierce Cravens, Andrew Hazell
Director of photography: Peter Borosh
Production designer: Michael Chavez
Editor: Spencer Averick
Composer: Kush Mody
Additional music: Nathan Young
No rating, 93 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival