I liked Bob Funk. I'm not entirely sure how it happened, because at first, the story of drunk futon salesman Bob (Michael Leydon Campbell), the trials and tribulations he goes through with his brother Ron (Eddie Jemison) and mother-slash-manager (Grace Zabriskie), and his attempts to win over the pretty new office girl Sylvia Thorne (Rachael Leigh Cook) seemed pretty dry. Yet despite pretentious chapter titles, vague biblical references and low production values, I was surprised to find I had some investment in the characters when the movie was ending. Unfortunately, Bob Funk is primarily meant to be a comedy, and I only really laughed out loud two times during the entire movie.
According to an Amazon user review (one of the two, which led me to check this movie out), the movie is based on a play, presumably of the same name and probably by writer/director Craig Carlisle, with Campbell reprising his leading role. I don't know how popular the play was, but maybe it worked a little better on stage: the movie version feels open and listless, distracted by the need to be both visually and dramatically interesting. Campbell also seems unsure of what to do, so he projects his acting to the back row of the nonexistent auditorium. It's not over-the-top, but it feels boldly underlined in a way that isn't necessary in a movie. It's also interesting to note that Campbell is credited last in a long list of more famous names in the film's opening credits. Bob may be the main character, but Campbell doesn't get his name above (or below) the title on the DVD front cover.
Which is not to say that giving Rachael Leigh Cook first billing is completely misleading, because her character Sylvia is the movie's female lead, but this isn't a romantic comedy, either, so she's not in every scene or even every other scene. It's called Bob Funk because it's about Bob Funk, and more specifically, it's about his womanizing and addiction to alcohol. Bob beds several women, including the wonderful Amy Ryan (so good on the phenomenal second season of "The Wire" but underused here), and the moment he spots Sylvia, he tries his best to hit her with a blast of his oily charms too. Instead, mom intervenes and fires Bob, which sends him on the long, hard road to redemption. I've always liked Cook, and Sylvia, after a bit of a low-key start, slowly builds to play to Cook's charms as Bob tries to be a better person. She's saddled with character clumsiness, an all-too-familiar comedy staple, but she underplays it nicely.
But Bob doesn't have much of a defined character arc. He has the drinking, he avoids responsibility, and there are his issues with women, but that doesn't help you picture what Bob should be like as a model citizen or know how the movie should end. Take his womanizing: in the early scenes, Bob's a dislikable guy, but he's not exactly scum. Except for Amy Ryan's unexplained comic hatred of Bob, the women are too vaguely defined for the audience to feel sorry for them, and it's hard to see how Bob's charm actually succeeds, and thus, hard to know how low he's stooping. He sees a shrink (Terri Mann) and tells her a post office story, but what does the therapy signify about Bob? Even if I was sure, it has the air of armchair theorizing, a dumbing-down to make broad, pseudo-intellectual points about a character. The movie also struggles with Bob's brother Ron's dissatisfaction with his marriage to Janet (UK "Office" star Lucy Davis, completely wasted here) and building interest in Sylvia. Jemison (Livingston Dell in the Ocean's movies) is good and he forges a strong brotherly bond with Campbell, but again, we don't know anything about Janet, so the problem seems prohibitively one-sided (we actually know so little, I didn't realize Davis was playing the wife until halfway through the movie because she only gets five minutes of screen time).
Still, strangely, as the movie progressed, I found myself more interested in Bob's happiness than I had realized. There's a scene where Bob asks his mother how his father died. Zabriskie shines for the entire bittersweet and wonderfully written sequence, and Campbell rises to the challenge. There's also an intriguing but sadly underdeveloped thread in which Bob discovers the art of Vincent Van Gogh and uses it to get Sylvia's attention, and a great turn by Ron Canada as Smiley, the wise bartender (aren't they all) who works at Bob's favorite watering hole. Alex Désert and Nadja Dajani play two of Bob's sarcastic, romantically involved co-workers, who seem like a story all to themselves: they're constantly in the background, subtly making fun of the customers and slightly gleeful at Bob's apparent downfall.
It's rare that a movie totally sneaks up on me, and it's even rarer that its' pleasures are extremely slight yet inarguably arresting in a way that leaves me confused on what to say. That first hour or so was a bit of a slow climb, and yet with a few solid hits here and there during the last act, I walked away feeling like I was charmed (the fact that the last scene, played between Cook and Campbell, is one of the film's better moments probably helped). I just wish the movie, as a comedy, was funnier. There were those two jokes I liked: the first one was a throwaway line about a Rubik's Cube from Dajani, and the other one comes when Bob and Sylvia are on the roof overlooking the city. Bob makes a terrible pun about heartbreak. "That was a joke," he adds. "Yeah," replies Sylvia. "I just didn't laugh."
Bob Funk comes in a colorful case that sells the movie the old-fashioned way: sex. I don't know why there's a beautiful woman's lower torso lying in front of Bob and Sylvia, and I'm kind of amused, in a bad way, with the use of a popping champagne bottle shoved in a grinning Bob's arm to indicate the character's alcoholism (which the film takes reasonably seriously). The back also prominently displays a scene not in the film with Bob sitting naked behind a desk and Sylvia handing him some folders. There is no insert, the disc features the un-Photoshopped picture of Cook and Campbell, and the menus are fairly cheap-looking (although I like the skyline with Gogh's Starry Night behind it, which seems like the germ of inspiration that should have led to a better cover, but alas, it didn't).
This is clearly a low-budget cheapie, so who knows how much role the source played in the picture, but the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation (incorrectly identified as 1.78:1 on the case) is mushy and soft. Colors often look sort of smeary, and I detected a few jagged edges and compression artifacts (automated sprinklers blasting over a grassy yard looked fairly spotty on my display). It's watchable, but the bigger it gets, the worse it's going to look.
Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo are included, and I actually had to stop the movie part of the way through and double check that I was watching the 5.1 track. I'm sure there's one or two here and there, but I didn't detect any notable use of the surrounds during the entire movie: dialogue comes clearly through the front and that's it. Spanish subtitles are provided.
There's a terribly compressed-looking photo gallery of 25 photos. Although the primary distributor of this DVD is magnolia, I see Cinema Epoch played a part. I'm guessing this is their work -- keeping the DVD photo gallery dream alive! Curiously, during the film's credits they list a documentary team, but no documentary is present on the DVD.
Trailers for The Perfect Sleep, Two Lovers, The Great Buck Howard, Big Man Japan and HDNet open the disc. No Bob Funk trailer is included and the others aren't accessible from the menu.
Argh! What does it mean? Half a good film, mediocre video, dry audio and no extras, and yet I still can't bring myself to slap a skip it onto this release. Keep your expectations low (the film wastes lots of talented actors -- in addition to those already mentioned, Stephen Root rehashes old acts) and be prepared to care more than you laugh, but if there's nothing else piquing your interest, renting this one might be as mysteriously charming for you as it was for me.
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