The road trip buddy comedy formula has endured in film because it is a very easy and relatable framework. Well, that, and because they’re relatively cheap to produce. However, the key to any comedy is that it needs to be funny, and despite the word being right in the title, Folk Hero & Funny Guy just isn’t. Or, at the very least, the comedy is buried under some annoying character ticks and some understated mumblecore performances.
The set-up isn’t anything innovative, even if the particulars seem unique. Paul (Alex Karpovsky) is a struggling comedian whose jokes don’t really connect with his audiences, and following a break-up with his fiancé he is convinced by childhood friend Jason (Wyatt Russell), a rising folk star, to come on a small venue tour with him as an opening act in order to find himself. Along the way, the pick up another opening act, Bryn (Meredith Hagner), whom they both crush on and approach in their own ways, Paul as a meek nice guy and Jason as a sexual free spirit. More than their romantic competition, though, their personalities clash as an ulterior motive for the tour begins to emerge.
There’s an inherent problem in making one’s protagonist an unfunny comedian in a comedy: the character just isn’t funny. Even when placed in contrast with Jason, Paul is a pretty milquetoast lead that is less a straight-man to Jason’s antics than a mildly annoyed buddy, which just isn’t a rich mine for laughter. Jason is a similarly bland character, who doesn’t come across as a free love folk archetype so much as a douchebag whose success comes all too easily to him. I understand that’s part of the point to his character, but when neither Jason nor Paul are extreme enough personalities to make their relatively mundane quest humorously tense, the whole experience feels a little hollow.
This isn’t to say that the film is without merit. Structurally, the film functions well enough as a maturity arc for both the co-leads, Jason in particular developing in an unexpected way given how he was set up. However, most of this development comes at the very end of the film, when the conflict hasn’t so much bubbled under the surface as it has laid there limply until the screenplay decides to shake it awake. What’s particularly frustrating about the culmination of the conflict is centered on how much both characters want to fuck Bryn, both of whom express a sense of entitlement toward her that is alienating and gross. Bryn does call them out on it, but it’s still hard to care for the development of two characters who engage in such retrograde courting mentalities.
I appreciate what writer and director Jeff Grace was going for here, and I definitely see the potential for better comedies in his future. Cameo appearances by Michael Ian Black and David Cross are quite funny, and that material feels elevated by the innate comic timing those talents possess. But what Folk Hero & Funny Guy needed was tighter scripting that focused more building humor out of conflict than coasting the structure of a conflict comedy to the finish line. As is, this is little more than occasionally and mildly amusing.