Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#1,555. Funny Farm (1988)

Directed By: George Roy Hill

Starring: Chevy Chase, Madolyn Smith, Kevin O'Morrison

Tag line: "Chevy Chase finds life in the country isn't what it's cracked up to be!"

Trivia: This was director George Roy Hill's final movie as director

In films like Caddyshack and Fletch, Chevy Chase showed a penchant for playing wise-asses, but in my opinion, his true strength lies in portraying the eternal optimist. Arguably, his best role was that of Clark Griswold, the over-exuberant father in the Vacation movies (two of which, the 1983 original and ‘89’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, are flat-out hilarious). In Funny Farm he plays a character a lot like Clark: a regular guy who views the world through rose-colored glasses, only to have his hopes and dreams dashed by forces outside his control.

New York Sportswriter Andy Farmer (Chase) is leaving the city behind and moving to the country, where he intends to write his first novel. Using the $10,000 advance the publisher gave him, Andy and his wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith) pack up their belongings and head north to Vermont, settling down in a picturesque cottage in the village of Redbud. Expecting to find a community similar to the ones Normal Rockwell captured in his famous Saturday Evening Post illustrations, the Farmers are disappointed to learn that Redbud is, in fact, an awful place to live. Aside from the swarming bugs and other assorted wildlife (including snakes), the locals are as ornery as can be; the mailman (Kevin Conway) is a drunk who never slows down to deliver the mail (he simply tosses the letters onto the ground as he speeds by), and the town’s sheriff (Kevin O’Morrison) doesn’t even know how to drive! Add to that the discovery of a dead body in their garden, and you have a dream home that quickly turns into a nightmare. In addition, Andy is suffering from writer's block, and as if to rub salt in his wounds, Katherine, who previously worked as a school teacher, pens a children’s book in her spare time, one so good that publishers are fighting over it! His hopes shattered, Andy seeks solace in a bottle, threatening to bring both his career and his marriage to a crashing end.

From the moment he leaves New York, things don’t go well for poor Andy. Thanks to a piss-poor map (that he himself drew), the movers get lost and don’t show up until the following morning. On top of that, the phone company mistakenly installs a payphone in the kitchen. Elizabeth also faces her share of challenges. It’s she who discovers the body in the garden, which, after it’s exhumed and reburied, results in a $4,000 bill from the funeral home (according to the law, the Farmers are obligated to pay it). The funniest scenes, however, involve Andy’s and Elizabeth’s run-ins with the locals. A fishing tournament that Andy takes part in ends disastrously, as does a visit to the Redbud diner, where Andy sets the record for most “lamb fries” eaten in a single sitting (before realizing what “lamb fries” really are). The film’s finale, during which the townsfolk are bribed to “act normally”, finally turns Redbud into the kind of community Andy had hoped for, but it proves too little, too late.

Along with being a strong “fish out of water” story, Funny Farm is also an incredibly underrated comedy, every bit as good as anything Chase has done before or since. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch Funny Farm as soon as you can.

And be ready to laugh.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

I've tried to watch this based solely on the presence of Madolyn Smith who I've always thought was drop-dead gorgeous. But I've never been able to sit through it. Not because it's particularly bad, but merely because it's bland to the point of boring me.