FUNNY FARM (1988)

Once upon a time there was no one funnier on this Earth than Chevy Chase.  Feel free to disagree with me, but when you look at his work on Saturday Night Live, Vacation, Caddyshack, etc., he shaped what a lot of people find funny. 

Strictly speaking from my limited point of view.  Maybe you’re slamming your fist into the desk reading this going, “Dammit, Carrot Top was waaaaay funnier.”

To each his own then.

This movie was nothing but empty promises. Not only was it not particularly funny, but at no point is anyone ever on a farm.  Just because you have geese who occasionally break into your place, does not make it a farm.

The premise this movie gives is that Chevy Chase is a sports writer who moves his wife to the country so he can write a novel and get his wife pregnant – not necessarily in that order. They settle into a house in a small town that seems idyllic, BUT YOU GUYS, ITS NOT. That’s where the funny comes in, get it?

Chevy’s character is goofy and affable and not flexible but he pretends to be. His wife is…well, she’s his wife. She reacts appropriately to things.  When he makes a joke, she laughs.  When they look around the house, she smiles.

When she enjoys a banana, we’re given a whole scene to let that happen.

Chevy Chase is someone that you know he’s going to go off the rails at anytime…

Like when he realizes his wife has eaten the last banana.

We’re introduced to all the crazy characters who contribute to Chevy’s steady descent into madness, which has possibly affected modern day Chevy Chase, but results of that theory are still pending.  There’s a crazy mailman who throws mail, a lazy sheriff who’s role in the town I really wasn’t sure about.  Also, there’s this lady…

She’s the town operator and if you want to make a call, you have to have a payphone in your house, where you feed it five cents. If you don’t, she won’t put through the call.  Does this make any sense? Nope. Does the movie’s heroes ever solve this problem or does it shrug and expect us to laugh along? Do we need to ask?

Its one of many things that make no sense and that the screenwriters felt didn’t really deserve a point, just something to say, “Hey, isn’t this crazy?”  There’s a dead body in the house and the town wants to charge our heroes a fee to bury it. Why? Well, its not really explained, but our heroes go along with it. Because that makes comedy?

Seriously, asking for a friend.

 They get a dog. Because that’s a great formula for comedy. He can’t hear or see anything, so the producers had a laugh about that.

The story takes an interesting twist.  Chevy gives Mrs. Chevy the first chapter of his book to read and she hates it. Like, HATES it, hates it.  She cries and its awkward and didn’t think it was funny (perhaps our hero was the author of this movie?)  He tries to take it well, but its eating him alive.  The darkness consumes us all.

To make things worse, not only is the lack of his wife’s approval crippling his mental wellbeing, but she wrote a book on the sly – a kid’s book about a squirrel and it’s getting published. He’s supportive in that he allows her to live in the house, but you get the feeling that this might be the 80s answer to In Cold Blood.

What happens next might surprise you, that is if you walked into a movie expecting a realistic character arc. Chevy Chase loses his mind and becomes obsessed with his own failures at life.

The movie reaches its tipping point, when his publisher stops into town (do publishers really do long distance stop ins? Anyone we can ask for a point of reference?) He’s greeted with Heart of Darkness style Chevy:

…as he’s trying to murder the local mailman.  The publisher ignores this behavior and passes it off as “artistic genius” and says, “Hey, where’s that book you promised us?”  Chevy’s response is hand him his wife’s recent manuscript (possible titles are  Boys and Squirrels, Squirrel with the Dragon Tattoo or Squirrel, Interrupted). Publisher takes it, says good day.

Wife does catch on to the ruse as the publisher can’t wait to send Squirrel on Fire to the presses on Chevy Chase’s name and demands a divorce.  So the baby prospects also get put to a halt.

If they’re going to get a divorce, they have to sell the house and go their separate ways. In any other situation, the couple would sell the house cheap or apply to be on one of those renovation shows on HGTV, just to get away from each other (see also, The Money Pit)

Instead, they go to a Town Hall, and bribe the townspeople to act like a Norman Rockwell painting to help sell the town. Weirdly, everybody’s into it.

This begs the question – no one put up these shenanigans when our heroes bought this house, the house and scenery did the job for them. But, to answer these questions, we would be watching a much better movie starring other people. So, moving on.

A couple comes and looks at the house, has no problem finding the place and automatically falls in love. Our heroes are told, “Tomorrow morning, expect an offer.”

Our heroes could easily smile and say, “Thanks, that’s great,” but no. Instead, they respond with, “You should spend the night and find out why we hate this house.” (Blogger’s paraphrase, not a direct movie quote.)

Oh, is everything going better than expected? Time to quit while you’re ahead.

Our heroes could have saved boatloads of cash by just letting the prospective owners go to a hotel for the night. Also, if you’re not growing crops or raising livestock, then stop calling your property a farm.

In a move that surprises no one on this side of the screen, one of the townspeople goes off the rails and assaults Chevy Chase.  Everyone laughs except for the prospective house buyers, but they’re weirdly still into buying this house.

The next morning, the house buyers have their checkbook out, they’re ready to make a deal, but something in this overly complicated and unnecessary ruse has made our heroes rethink everything and it turns out that not only do they love the house and the town, they’re just in love with each other.

Wife apologizes for overreacting when her husband tried to steal her work and pass it off as his own, sending the fight for equality and dignity for women back about a hundred years.

She’ll keep writing her Squirrel, You Know Its True saga and Chevy’s going to settle for being the towns sports writer, covering the one softball game they have in the summer.  Not the emotional powerpunch ending of Cop and a Half, really more like a shrug from the writer and director alike.

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