17 February 2000 | krumski
Overlooked comedy gem
Now, admittedly, I saw this during a period of my life when I believed Chevy Chase could do no wrong but even so, this is one that holds up, and was unfairly lambasted by the critics. From the ads (if you can even remember that far back!) this looked like it was just going to be a "Vacation" rip-off, sort of "The Griswolds Move To the Country." Believe me, the humor in this film is much slyer and more charming than anything in the Vacation pictures (of which the first one was solid, the next two lame). The film is about a sportswriter (Chase) who quits his job in order to move out to the country with his wife (the wonderful Madolyn Smith) and write the Great American Novel. The movie details his gradual come uppance, as he realizes that neither country living nor his talent is all that it's cracked up to be.
The film wonderfully skews the convention of the innocent country rubes moving to the big city and being overwhelmed by its meanness and craziness. Here, it's the cityfolk who move wide-eyed to the country - and are amazed to find there a roll call of crazies, misanthropes, and just plain wierdos. Does this view of country life have any basis in reality? Probably not, but then the film isn't really trying to be a satire but instead a pure lunatic comic fantasy. And it gives us a rich array of supporting characters - from the town sheriff who hasn't yet passed his driving test and so must ride around in cabs, to the owner of an antiques store whose merchandise are all personal. All these characters are priceless, and the film just keeps coming up with more and more of them - until it has created this pleasantly bizarre and warped Otherworld, of a kind that only comedy can truly provide.
Best of all is the way in which Chase and Smith react to all of this and try to make some sense of it. I very clearly say "Chase and Smith" because the film belongs equally to both of them. It had to be billed as a Chevy Chase Comedy, of course, since he's the big star here, but this is no star trip; from the very first, the wife is made an equal partner in the trials and the laughs, and it's the way the two go through their new life together that provides much of the comedy. It also helps take the edge off of the usual Chevy Chase persona: in Funny Farm he's neither glib and disinterested (as in the Fletch movies) nor over the top silly (like in the Vacation movies). He comes across instead like a normal, personable guy who just finds himself caught in insane circumstances.
Finally, the climactic sequence of the film is absolutely priceless - one of the most brilliantly sustained comic set-pieces you'll see in any movie, of any era. Funny Farm is the type of movie which gives you a great time and leaves you with a big, dopey grin on your face after it's all over. Trust me, even if you don't normally like Chevy Chase, you'll love Funny Farm.