Owen Cline on funny pages

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Owen Cline on funny pages
Owen Cline on funny pages

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During his brief career as a child actor, Owen Cline delivered one of the great opening lines in modern cinema. It was in 2006 The squid and the whale, where Klein plays Frank, a sensitive 12-year-old with problems with masturbation. “It’s mom and me against you and dad,” Frank tells his older brother Walt (played by Jesse Eisenberg). Frank is referring to the tennis match they’re about to play, but it also foreshadows the dynamic of Noah Baumbach’s scathing drama, in which a bitter divorce splits a family in two.

Klein seems to have borrowed from Baumbach’s collection for his feature film debut Funny pages. The very first line is “always subvert expectations,” and that’s exactly what this young director does in this sickening black comedy celebrating the world of underground comics.

He was on the set of The squid and the whale that Klein realized he would rather be behind the camera than in front of it. He was no stranger to movie sets growing up, as his parents are Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline. “My mom retired from acting to raise us, but my dad kept making movies, and they looked so gigantic that they just felt like they were made by giant machines.”

Baumbach’s film felt different. “It was this little personal film shot in Park Slope on 16mm. Jesse and I were helping pick out pins to put on our characters’ backpacks. It just felt like we were doing something very specific and personal, and that’s when the movies really started to make sense to me. I knew at one point the biggest dream was to make a film independently and use that as an excuse to do something different.

He certainly did something different with Funny pages. At first glance, this story of Robert (Daniel Zolgadri), a rebellious 17-year-old from middle-class suburbia who wants to defy his uptight parents by bypassing college to make a living as a struggling comic book artist, seems clear on an indie film about turning 101. Funny pages is a much sharper proposition, however.

There is nothing romantic about Robert’s journey to artistic discovery. When Robert moved out, for example, he didn’t rent a suspiciously cheap loft in New York with glamorous roommates. Instead, his digs are a sweaty basement with two middle-aged jerks who love pornographic comics. And when he meets a possible mentor, a former colorist for a legendary brand, his reluctance to train the boy isn’t because he’s some JD Salinger recluse; rather, he is a deeply disturbed man with anger issues and an unjustified vendetta against his local chemist.

“When I wrote this movie, I wasn’t thinking in terms of it being a coming-of-age movie,” Klein says. “I guess I was just trying to do something absurd.” This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been looking for funky Klein shorts like Bird gameabout three petty crooks trying to find a chicken for a cockfight, or Jazzy for Joe, in which chat show legend Joe Franklin discovers a baby abandoned on his doorstep. “I guess they were all weird movies, but I like making movies about unusual New Yorkers, stories about weird characters I meet.”

While Klein was in his senior year of high school, a teacher pointed out that something was missing from these gonzo shorts. “He asked, ‘Where are you in all this?'” Klein instantly knew his teacher was in his sights. “I realized that by putting a subject in the middle of all these misfit characters who is impressionable and like a weird little mushroom, if you put someone like that in a script with all these people, it’s going to create an interesting culture clash. And with [Funny Pages]I was just trying to hit these rocks together.

If Klein sees himself as Robert, that’s a good admission, since it’s not a flattering portrait. The boy is certainly talented, but he is also selfish, petty and a bit of a snob. “Well, I really wanted to be a cartoonist as a kid,” Klein admits. “And you know, I fought a little bit at 15 and 16. I threatened my parents that I wouldn’t graduate from high school. I blame hormones for those two crappy years. But I never did drugs or anything like that – I was just a weird kid who was into the things I was into.’

At that time, Klein found some older queer kids to hang out with. When he was 15, Klein invited Josh Safdie, one half of the Safdie Brothers (Good time, Uncut gemstones), went out for coffee and ended up joining their team. “I was running around with them in New York and, you know, I got in trouble because I was shooting in places where we weren’t supposed to be shooting. I also filmed a short for them, I called John is gonewhich was also pretty helpless.” When we ask what Klein learned from the Safdias, he doesn’t miss a beat. “I learned from them that you don’t have to ask for permission, and that’s the only reason this movie exists.”


Funny pages was released on September 16 by Curzon



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