While the list of feature films based on successful comedy sketches is quite small–MacGruber (2010), Waynes World (1992) and Blues Brothers (1980)–2019 adds another to list with the addition of Between Two Ferns: The Movie. One might attribute the absence of these films to the financial track record of comedy sketch features, as they are often hit or miss at the Box Office. So logically, the best way for a film of this category to get made is through a streaming platform, in this case Netflix. Starring Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell, Between Two Ferns takes a hilarious and entertaining attempt, at fleshing out an existing sketch show.
Between Two Ferns is an online video series with a simple premise, Galifianakis interviews a celebrity through means of backhanded compliments and aggressively playful beratement. Often to comedic effect, the interviews poke fun at both Zach and his A-List guests. In the online sketches, Galifianakis is presented as his actual self, behaving passively and cold towards his guests for laughs. However, in the film the audience is led to believe his character is just fantastically bad at giving interviews, but able to keep his career with support from Will Ferrell. After growing tired of being “laughed at” and not “laughed with”, Zach is given the task of collecting ten interviews in two weeks with the promise that he will receive his own talk show upon completed. Accompanied by a small film crew, the film quickly becomes a road trip movie for Galifianakis to complete interviews and encounter various road blocks along the way. Between Two Ferns is intentional with its resources, placing most of its eggs in the Zach Galifianakis basket, and prioritizing the audience’s attention span with a quick pace.
While the film runs through the essential steps of character and plot setup, it spends not a minute more than it required to begin the film. The only character development is invested in Zach, as we learn of his ambitions and a few other details to get the ball rolling. The few details we learn of other characters are of his crew members, which after watching, I still cannot recall their names. The film really revolves around the interviews, which make up almost half of the hour and ten-minute runtime. The interviews are then intercut with the plot progression in-between. The filmmakers seem hyper aware of the audience’s attention span and move quickly from scene to scene. One reason for this might be the sketch’s previous success on a digital platform, as the threat of viewers clicking away exists not only on YouTube, but Netflix as well. We see this in the film’s structure too, pandering to audience members whose only interest might be to see Zach berate celebrities, as the segments in-between interviews last a few minutes at the most. The result of the film’s pacing is that viewers aren’t required to invest any attention into the film, the premise and humor is simple to understand and the story moves quickly. The downside of this is that the audience’s emotional investment in the film is also very minimal and the story becomes almost disposable at the cost of quick entertainment.
If you approach this film with the expectation to fully immerse yourself in a story, you may be disappointed. However, given a casual approach Between Two Ferns: The Movie will win you over with hilarious banter and memorable one liners like “(Speaking to Chance The Rapper) You have a brother? What’s his name community chest the rapper?”. The film showcases Galifianakis’s talents as a comedian and provides audiences with over an hour of his very best material, that both familiar and unfamiliar audiences can entertain themselves with.