A film about two young lesbians whose protagonist is the middle-aged dad who can’t keep from wrecking their lives would not seem to be in the wheelhouse of a male 30-year-old best known as a YouTube auteur. Then again, Michael J. Gallagher’s last feature was a dystopian sci-fi adventure starring Logan Paul, so perhaps we shouldn’t underestimate his familiarity with regrettable decisions and lingering shame. Whatever his qualifications to tell the tale, Funny Story (co-written with Steve Greene) proves much more polished than its pedigree might suggest — a warmhearted seriocomedy that, even when not thoroughly convincing, projects a disarming sincerity.
Walter (Matthew Glave) is trying to do the right-but-difficult thing from the moment we meet him: He’s calmly explaining to his vapid, much younger girlfriend (Daisye Tutor) that they should “call it a day” on their relationship, despite his having wrecked his marriage to be with her two years ago. Just as the veteran TV actor is concluding a well-rehearsed speech, she looks at him blankly and blurts, “I’m pregnant.” So much for that.
Heartfelt and likable, if not 100 percent convincing.
Now saddled with an impending family he never wanted, he’s overeager to rebuild bonds with the daughter he lost. When Nicole (Jana Winternitz) says she can’t see him this weekend because she’s rented a house with friends at Big Sur, he invites himself to join them. Flummoxed, she says yes, then asks if he can give one of the weekend’s guests a ride up from L.A.: Kim (Emily Bett Rickards), whose car broke down just after she drove into the city for her mother’s funeral.
Kim’s a wreck, and not only because she was estranged from her mom through a yearlong fight with cancer. But that doesn’t keep her from giving a glacier-size cold shoulder to the man coming to her rescue: She hates Walter on Nic’s behalf, angry at what he did to their family and his inept attempts to be a loving dad since then. (Walter has apologized every time he’s seen Nicole, and she has always said things are fine between them.)
But as it does in this sort of film, the ice soon melts. The two travelers stop at a B&B midway up the coast, share their vulnerabilities over drinks, and get drunk enough that Kim tricks Walter into karaoke. Onstage, he’s just winning enough, and Kim’s just drunk enough, that she plants a big kiss on her friend’s father and leads him to bed.
Once the awkwardly silent pair get to the gorgeous, if New Agey, vacation house the next day, a few surprises hit the fan. Nicole wants to come out to her dad. By introducing him to her girlfriend, the woman he just slept with. They’re getting married tomorrow.
Instead of leaning into emotional chaos for comedic effect here, the filmmakers take a more naturalistic approach — letting Walter and Kim quietly fret about their secret while, on the surface, the more easily confronted tensions melt into goodwill. Old straight dude gets to ask awkward questions over dinner; young free spirits give him a dreamcatcher, then share the shower with him as if it were a co-ed locker room. The vibe is happy, if bemused — so much so that one half expects the other shoe’s drop will be greeted with shrugs instead of shouting. Can Gallagher get his nice people out of this trap he’s contrived for them?
Character actor Glave is ideally cast as Walter, a toned-down Shatner type who is loved by millions (including one of Nicole’s friends, played by Nikki Limo) as the star of a hokey old sci-fi/fantasy series; and Winternitz makes Nicole as kind and smart a daughter as any parent could want. In the picture’s thorniest role, Rickards is credibly damaged, even if she can’t single-handedly remedy the script’s shortcomings. Yes, Kim’s in a dangerous emotional place. But having made a colossal mistake, is there really any chance she’d sit silently in Walter’s car for hours instead of desperately trying to prepare him for the disaster he’s walking into? The film arrives at the most forgiving ending it can believably forge given the choices made to this point. On both sides of the generation gap, viewers will likely want to believe what they see.
Production company: Cinemand
Distributor: Blue Fox Entertainment
Cast: Matthew Glave, Emily Bett Rickards, Jana Winternitz, Nikki Limo, Lily Holleman, Jessica Diggins, Aschleigh Jensen
Director: Michael J. Gallagher
Screenwriters: Michael J. Gallagher, Steve Greene
Producers: Michael J. Gallagher, Jana Winternitz, Michael Wormser
Executive producers: Steve Greene, James Huntsman, Andreas Olavarria, Todd Slater
Director of photography: Greg Cotten
Production designer: Karleigh Engelbrecht
Costume designer: Jax Sirotiak
Editor: Brian Ufberg
Composer: Brandon Campbell
Casting director: Joseph Linn