In a coincidence that strains the plotline to its breaking point, Wallace (Matthew Maher) barges into her office, looking for representation after being arrested for causing some sort of ruckus at a local Rite Aid. In the process of their initial conversation, Wallace mentions he once worked as a color separator (not a colorist, an important distinction) for a reputable comics publisher. To the opportunistic Robert, Wallace might be a “way in,” so he pursues Wallace as another possible mentor. This choice turns out to be catastrophic, another way “Funny Pages” follows Mr. Katano’s initial advice to “subvert everything.” Wallace is unpredictable, paranoid, violent, and totally unstable.
“Funny Pages” unfolds as almost a picaresque narrative, Robert tripping in and out of different environments, episodic, at times funny, at times not. There’s the comic book store where Robert hangs out, populated by unsmiling murmuring obsessives, the upscale Princeton home where Robert grew up, and the sublet-basement which looms over everything. Even Robert’s prickly friendship with another artist-hopeful named Miles (Miles Emanuel) is seen as episodic, rather than something stable. Miles is sweet and open, and Robert seems to only tolerate him because he can lord his own talent over Miles’ seeming lack of talent. Robert is a purist: he cares most about form. Miles cares about soul. Robert is not a good friend to Miles, but Miles is the only game in town. It takes a while to realize that Robert lives in almost total isolation. He has no other friends. He has no love interest, male or female. Wallace is the object of all his attention.
In another director’s hands, “Funny Pages” would be the story of a young isolated boy integrating himself into society: he eventually makes up with his parents, embraces Miles, and gets a shot at the big-time through Wallace. But here, down to the final shot, a subversion of the final shot of “Call Me By Your Name,” there’s a sense of emptiness and futility.
There are a couple of cameos by beloved character actors, namely Ron Rifkin as Robert’s housebound grandfather confused about the remote control, and Louise Lasser, an opiate addict, confined to a wheelchair, demanding Robert try to get her some Percocet from behind the pharmacy counter. These are one-offs, but their presence lingers. They are residents of a wider world, a world Robert passes through, while barely comprehending it, or caring to comprehend it.