There’s no right way to depict the coming-of-age experience, and there’s certainly no shortage of movies highlighting this universally relatable and trying time. Whether light-hearted, dark or completely heart-breaking, there’s a story for everyone. From heavier classics such as The Breakfast Club and Stand By Me to more recent and comedic movies like The Edge of Seventeen and Superbad, the beauty of this genre is that regardless of the tone, character(s), or plot, the central theme will always resonate with a range of audiences. 

Still from A24 film Funny Pages
Courtesy of A24

Whilst not every coming-of-age movie has to come directly from a lived experience or vulnerable place, these stories can often be more impactful by highlighting the ugliness and the unavoidably harsh reality of the ‘real world’ and its people’s motives and truths. It’s a reality that Robert, the main character in Owen Kline’s charming but grungy directorial debut Funny Pages, has to face, whether he likes it or not. 

The dark but comically toned movie – loosely based on a handful of elements from Kline’s personal experiences – doesn’t shy away from the grotesque, showcasing a world that is at times grimy, disappointing, and relentless. Yet, combined with the naivety and comedy of Kline’s oddball characters, the resulting story is endearing, relatable, and completely memorable. 

Robert (Daniel Zolghadri), the quintessential embodiment of The Starving Artist, is an aspiring cartoonist wanting to make his stamp on the comic world. He’s adamant about forging his own path, which includes skipping out on college and ignoring the founded concerns and pleas from his parents (Maria Dizzia and Josh Pais). 

Courtesy of A24

Set in his ways and with the limited budget his comic book store job allows him, Robert ends up moving into a shady and cramped two-bedroom apartment – albeit already occupied by eccentric and glistening (you’ll see) landlord Barry (Michael Townsend Wright) and his possibly-more-than-just-a-friend Steven (Cleveland Thomas Jr.) – whilst taking a second job working for Cheryl (Marcia DeBonis), an innocuous public defender. Unbeknownst to him, this new venture is where Robert will cross – or rather, barge into –paths with the elusive Wallace (Matthew Maher), a client of Cheryl’s who used to work as an established colour separator, presenting Robert with an opportunity that he’ll later seek to exploit.

Unlike the usual wide-eyed protagonists we see in coming-of-age films, Robert, whilst undeniably passionate, impressionable, and perhaps misunderstood, is often obnoxious and unlikeable. He takes his frustrations out on those around him, including his supposed best friend and fellow aspiring artist Miles (Miles Emanuel), who frequently becomes the target of Robert’s berating and discouraging outbursts. Whilst it’s incredibly easy to dislike Robert, a part of us will inevitably root for him and his success. After all, there has been (or will be) a time when we have been him: someone trying to accomplish and achieve their dreams, searching for even the slightest bit of validation from every corner.  

Funny pages produced by the Safdie Brothers
Courtesy of A24

There are moments when Funny Pages will make you cringe and want to look away, either out of discomfort or second-hand embarrassment, but there are plenty of uplifting and cosy moments too. The cinematography perpetuates this warmth, shot on 16-millimetre Kodak film to create a colour palette that Kline himself described as “Saturated Looney Tunes colours“. Infused with a quirky and nostalgic soundtrack comprised of 60’s Doo-Wop and Rock ‘n’ Roll, the film is reminiscent of coming-of-age cult classics like Ghost World, Frances Ha, and Rushmore, all of which provide an unconventional, unapologetic look at growing up and the challenges it provokes.

Well-crafted, aesthetically pleasing, and perfectly blending dark humour with gritty realness, Kline’s debut is both refreshing and impressive. Unlike other movies about transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, Funny Pages doesn’t hold your hand or offer you a warm, reassuring hug at the end. Instead, it gives you a firm nudge into the real world, armed only with your passion and (occasionally misplaced) optimism. And sometimes, that’s all you really need.

Funny Pages is out in cinemas now.