Like a heaping bowl of black jelly beans, Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns web series is the definition of acquired taste. No doubt many folks find the humor (they’ll probably use air-quotes there) so cringe-inducing that they’d rather pluck their nose hairs with a pair of rusty tweezers, but there are plenty of others who find Zach Galifianakis’s antics absurdly hilarious—significantly funnier, for example, than most of what Saturday Night Live puts out these days.
If you’re squarely in the latter camp, welcome to Christmas morning. Netflix’s full-length (er, 83-minute) Between Two Ferns: The Movie is a bit of comedic genius that takes the now-decade-old skit and runs wildly amok with it.
For those not in-the-know, the whole idea centers on Galifianakis as the host of a local cable access interview show in Flinch, North Carolina, during which he sits down with A-list celebrities and hurls insults and condescension while simultaneously keeping up the persona of an oblivious buffoon. (He famously asked President Obama in a 2014 clip, “What’s it like to be the last black President?”). If Michael Scott’s shenanigans in The Office make you squirmy, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
BTF: The Movie jumps right in with Matthew McConaughey in the guest’s chair (“Of all the things you can win an Oscar for, how surprised are you that you won one for acting?”), and before you can even blink, the studio’s pipes burst, the ferns (and McConaughey) drown, and every upcoming episode of BTF is lost. Irate, Galifianakis’ Funny or Die boss Will Ferrell (playing a satire of himself) issues an ultimatum—get ten new episodes to his Hollywood office in a week, and he’ll make BTF a network show. Otherwise, he’s kicking Galifianakis out on his keister.
With that, the road trip begins, as Galifianakis and his makeshift crew (Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, and Jiavani Linayao) head cross-country from Flinch to L.A., hoping to nab as many willing celebrities as they can find. Sure enough, they trip on Paul Rudd in Illinois, Benedict Cumberbatch in Wyoming, and Tessa Thompson in Durango, Colorado. (Because of course that’s where they are.) And they’re just the tip of the iceberg. More than 20 celebs agree to take a seat next to a fern, including Jon Hamm, Keanu Reeves, and John Legend (who, along with wife Chrissy Teigen, provides one of the film’s most laugh-out-loud sequences).
Writer-director Scott Aukerman has been on board since the skit’s 2008 web debut (which arrived even before Galifianakis’ breakout performance in The Hangover), and he films BTF: The Movie in the faux-doc style of The Office and Parks and Recreation, including copious amounts of wry fourth-wall-breaking. And though the interviews themselves are largely improvised (brilliantly, with razor-sharp precision by both Galifianakis and his “victims”), the scripted moments pay off, too, bringing to mind similar low-brow comedies such as Dumb and Dumber and Borat.
(And for the love of all that’s holy, make sure you don’t turn exit Netflix until you experience the gut-busting outtakes during the end credits.)
Early on in the movie, Ferrell, when asked about his off-putting host, tells the camera, “I think it’s utterly fascinating that someone that grotesque can actually be watchable.” More than just “watchable”, though, Galifianakis continues to prove he is a true comedic talent, and he makes Between Two Ferns: The Movie one of the funnier things on Netflix these days… so long as you’re among those who are able to sit through it without curling up in a fetal position, begging for it to end.