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A stand-up comic who may not be cut out for showbiz gets a break of questionable value in Folk Hero & Funny Guy, Jeff Grace’s feature debut. The kind of road movie that relies less on incident than on the chemistry between the guys in the car, it pairs Girls co-star Alex Karpovsky with Wyatt Russell, who played one of the odder baseballers in Richard Linklater’s new Everybody Wants Some — then complicates its best-buddies dynamic by throwing an attractive woman (Meredith Hagner) into the mix. The result is an amiable if hardly unusual buddy pic whose most important lesson is that aspiring comedians in 2016 should avoid Evite jokes.
Karpovsky plays Paul, an advertising copywriter who has ditched his job in order to pursue a comedy career. Floundering in the wake of a broken engagement, he needs some support, if perhaps not the kind his childhood pal Jason (Russell), a folk-rock star, offers: Taking a break from touring with his band, Jason proposes a tour of small East Coast venues in which he’ll play solo and Paul will open for him.
“We’re gonna get your mojo back,” Jason promises, and he isn’t just referring to his friend’s stage presence. Accustomed to one-night-stands on the road, he’s too pushy with the sexually slow-moving Paul, then swoops in to exploit any opportunity Paul might let slip away. Bryn (Hagner) is a case in point: A talented singer they meet the first night of the tour, she seems receptive to Paul’s baby-step advances. But when Paul finds himself going home alone, Jason closes in, not only sleeping with Bryn but ensuring continued awkwardness by inviting her to join the tour. Paul’s mojo responds poorly.
He keeps dying on stage, relying on stale jokes and blaming his failure on crowds who’ve come out to see a famous songwriter. After watching this a couple of times, viewers may grow as impatient with him as Jason, who, however lousy his love-life advice may be, is right to push Paul to put more of himself into his routine.
Much of the movie’s point is to look at the difficulty successful people have understanding why others don’t just take charge of life and make things happen for themselves. While Grace certainly gets Jason’s failures in the empathy department when it comes to relationships, the larger point might have worked better if, instead of continuing to try something everyone else knows isn’t working, Paul was putting everything he had into his act and still getting nowhere. As it stands, the story tends to confirm the fallacy that failure just means you haven’t tried hard enough.
Hagner offers ballast to the iffy dynamic of her co-stars, as Bryn offers moral support to Paul and gets inspiration from Jason without committing to become either character’s love interest. A movie with a title like Folk Hero & Funny Guy is sure to be too easygoing to let this potential romantic triangle get very nasty for long, but for a moment or two, this road trip looks set to kill not just a nascent career but a friendship as well.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Production companies: First Dog Films, Point & Drop Productions
Cast: Alex Karpovsky, Wyatt Russell, Meredith Hagner, Michael Ian Black, Hannah Simone, Heather Morris, Melanie Lynskey, David Cross
Director-screenwriter: Jeff Grace
Producers: Ryland Aldrich, Jeff Grace
Executive producers: Vinny Chhibber, John Davenport, Dominque Genest, Tom Hamilton, Mike C. Manning, Katherine Ann McGregor, Micki Purcell, Tripp Rhame, Tom Simpson
Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber
Production designer: Hannah Stoddard
Costume designer: Stephanie Powers
Editor: Jonathan Melin
Composer: Adam Ezra
Casting director: Susanne Scheel
Sales: Hailey Wierengo, UTA
Not rated, 91 minutes
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