Disclaimer: The writer/director of this film, Lauralee Farrer, is a personal friend. Of course, one of the reasons she is a friend is because she is so thoughtful in her life and art, so I do not believe the following critique is nonvalid. Furthermore, at Reel Spirituality we strive to engage with the content of a film, be that content formal or thematic, so, while Not That Funny is a film of quality, the relative quality of it is not our first concern. Such is the case with all films we feature on our site.
I frequently lament the apparent inability of modern filmmakers to do something interesting with the romantic comedy genre. Not That Funny gives me hope that more interesting and progressive things are possible within the genre.
In film criticism, there is a metric used to judge whether or not a film respects women or not called the Bechdel Test. In its simplicity, the test is somewhat tongue in cheek, suggesting that most movies portray women so poorly, only a few small changes would drastically improve cinematic gender equality. The test is as follows:
1) Is there at least two women in the movie?
2) Do they talk to one another?
3) If they talk, do they talk about something other than a man?
Once you start asking those three questions about the movies you see, you’ll be both shocked at the lack of movies that can answer all three questions positively and abhorred at the lack of complex female characters in modern cinema.
I would need to see it again to be sure, but Not That Funny probably doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. While there are two women in the film, and while they do spend a lot of time talking to one another, I think they only talk about men – grandfathers, fathers, husbands, and current and future flames. There may be a conversation or two in there about both identity and future care (thus is the nature of the narrative), but even in those conversations, men feature prominently. On the other hand, the men in the film only talk about women as well – lost loves, surrogate grandmothers, and current and future flames, so at least the film is equally biased in its depictions of gender concerns.
Then again, this is a romantic comedy, and those kind of conversations are what the genre is all about. I’m not sure it is fair to apply the Bechdel Test to a movie about women and men trying to figure each other out. To me, this reveals the limits of both the Bechdel Test and that kind of categorical film criticism. Put simply, both are content to laud films which are merely non-destructive. I think it’s a tragic testament to most films that “non-destructive” is worth praise. However, Not That Funny proves that a greater critique is possible. A filmmaker can provide constructive criticism.
Not That Funny is a film that attempts to redefine what all of us (not just women) ought to value in men. Men who are vain, mean, arrogant, fake, who do things to increase their status instead of to truly help others, are lambasted. The effects of their unfaithfulness (to all people in a community, not just to the woman they’re sleeping with) is revealed in all its harmfulness. Instead, the film values sincerity and selflessness, humility and compassion, steadiness and communal fidelity.
Furthermore, Hayley’s (the female lead played wonderfully by Brigid Brannagh) arc resolves not in finding her identity in a guy (in this case, Stefan, played by a characteristically awkward yet uncharacteristically deadpan Tony Hale) but rather in a burgeoning awareness of the value of sincerity, selflessness, humility, compassion, steadiness, and communal fidelity. Hayley begins to fall in love with Stefan, because he too has learned to value those things.
Not That Funny is a sweet film that manages to be sentimental without being fake – clover honey, not aspartame. Its sweetness enhances our ability to appreciate what’s truly good in the world. It doesn’t overwhelm our tastebuds and make us dissatisfied with real life. It’s the kind of romantic comedy the world needs, because it espouses values more in accord with the Kingdom of God and less with the destructively idealistic “romance over all” tendencies of most cinematic love stories.
The film has only been playing the festival circuit for the past year. Hopefully it will become widely available soon. (Connect with Not That Funny on Facebook to stay informed.) When it becomes available, see it. Not That Funny is well worth your time.
(The film is also a chance to see how great Tony Hale can be in a more subdued role. He is far from Buster Bluth here. And if you want another example of how messed up our ideas of romance can be, your raised eyebrows at the idea of Tony Hale as a romantic lead is further proof.)