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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Funny Bones (Blu-ray)
Funny Bones (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // August 22, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted September 13, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Funny Bones (1995) is a difficult movie to assess, mainly because while it has a recognizable plot, stylistically the movie is almost surreal, and it's not immediately clear what its ambitions are. The title and the cast would suggest a comedy, yet while there's a lot of humorous material in it, it's really more a drama about comedy and how the DNA of the talented passes from one generation to the next (or not). Certain aspects of the film reminded this reviewer of other varied films, everything from the Ealingesque The Smallest Show on Earth (1957) to the much underrated The Tall Guy (1989), from Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose (1984) to, of all things, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Delicatessen (1991). Mostly, though, Funny Bones, a British-American co-production originally released by Hollywood Pictures, is in a world all its own.

Americans audiences that might have expected a rollicking bit of slapstick were no doubt left nonplussed by the movie's grim opening. Funny but emotionally disturbed Jack Parker (Lee Evans) is aboard a fishing vessel when a smuggling scheme led by Stanley Sharkey (Ian McNeice, later of Doc Martin) goes sour. A young French man is killed by Sharkey's craft, the propeller blades gruesomely severing him at the ankles, while Jack is abandoned at sea, miles from his Blackpool, England home.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, aspiring comic Tommy Fawkes (Oliver Platt, now a superb character actor on Chicago Med), the son of celebrated comedian George Fawkes (Jerry Lewis) and his wife, Laura (Ruta Lee), flops so spectacularly badly that he disappears entirely, later turning up in disguise in Blackpool, his home until the age of six. (The opening act in Vegas is Harold Nicholas, of the famed Nicholas Bros.)

There, Tommy crudely plans to buy funny material from the seaside resort town's mixture of mostly decrepit music hall entertainers, circus clowns, and specialty (very specialty) acts. Jack, meanwhile, is found alive at the top of Blackpool Tower, reuniting with his father and long-silent uncle, Bruno (Freddie Davies) and Thomas Parker (George Carl), once celebrated clowns now reduced to scaring tourists in a Ghost Train ride; and Katie (Leslie Caron), an older but still glamorous singer-magician.

(Mild Spoilers) Bitter, self-destructive Tommy gradually learns that his famous father stole his breakthrough shtick from the Parker Bros.' act. He nonetheless befriends Jack, drawn to his uncanny comic ability (particularly as a pantomimic), unaware of Jack's mental problems and that he's wanted by gangster Dolly Hopkins (Oliver Reed), or that he and Jack share a common lineage.

Funny Bones is one odd duck, ultimately fascinating and satisfying in its uniqueness. Director and co-writer Peter Chelsom was born in Blackpool, and one of his aims clearly was to capture the seedy glamour of that resort town, while preserving the alternately impressive and bizarre stage acts there and which once existed throughout England. Oddly, while the film appears to be set in the present (i.e., 1995), most of the wardrobes, props, automobiles, etc., date back much further, as if to blur the film's timeframe. I kept wondering while watching Funny Bones if the Blackpool seen in 1995 still existed in that form? Were acts like those in the movie still around in 1995? What's left of that world in 2017?

The Parker Bros. are particularly memorable, George Carl being an outstoundingly gifted music hall-type performer and clown, a clear influence on Bill Irwin and others. Together they're visually striking, like characters in the aforementioned Delicatessen, and genuinely disturbing as inert ghouls inside the Ghost Train, yet also sweetly charming in other scenes.

The picture alternates from "movie real" to something much more strange, such as when the Parker Bros. are setting a table and Bruno picks up Thomas, spinning him like a wheel of fortune, to straighten an unruly tablecloth.

And then there's Jerry Lewis's semi-autobiographical character, a Las Vegas-based legendary comedian supporting, like Gary Lewis, a son with show business aspirations. More directly, Lewis himself endured a similarly strained relationship with his show business father. Whether Chelsom was aware of any of this is unclear, but surely it resonated with Lewis, who gives a fine performance. As Shawn Levy points out in his biography of Lewis, Platt creates a startlingly accurate image of older-Jerry, while comedian Lee Evans perfectly captures young-Jerry during his early years with Dean Martin.

Partly the film is about the elusive art of comedy. For his Vegas act Tommy, using his wealthy father's money, hires the best joke writers money could buy, but as his father explains in one key scene, some people are born funny, with "funny" in their bones, others can be funny if armed with good material, but Tommy, it seems, is neither of these things. Jack, meanwhile, is so naturally gifted it almost scares those close to him, and the line between Jack's comedy and mental instability is, like so many talents (Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams to name two) often difficult to discern.

Video & Audio

Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray is outstanding. The cinematography by Portuguese DP Eduardo Serra (The Girl with the Pearl Earring) is gorgeous and the image, as perfect a Blu-ray presentation as I've seen, jumps off the screen. The DTS-HD Master Audio mix is likewise great, and the region "A" disc is supported by English subtitles.


Supplements include an archival conversation with director Chelsom and co-star Evans discussing the film, expanded in Chelsom's new audio commentary track. A trailer is also included.

Parting Thoughts

Obits for Jerry Lewis, who died at 91 last month, invariably mentioned his unnervingly raw performance in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1982) but many failed to mention his fine work in this picture. Lewis's role and general good buzz about the film made this reviewer want to see it, and it was nothing like what I thought it might be. There's nothing quite like it, and while I'm still not entirely sure whether Funny Bones succeeds entirely in reaching its aims, or even just what precisely those aims were, it's a fascinating, beguiling film with much to recommend it in every scene.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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