Watch this as soon as you can…
Between Two Ferns, the show, is a YouTube series that borrows the premise of the 00s hit show, Da Ali G Show. In both shows, the comedian/host interviews celebrities, but the twist is that the questions are harsh, scathing, and make you ask how he thinks he could get away with asking that. Between Two Ferns is a weaker imitation because the celebrities (including the likes of Obama) are in on the joke. Their responses to the hostile questions are funny, but you can tell they are as scripted and planned. In the 00s show, they did not, and their responses were all the more real, damning and revealing as a result. Nevertheless, the show is still funny. How does one turn an interview-based series into a feature length film for Netflix, though?
This is where Between Two Ferns surpasses the show it inspired. Da Ali G Show made the mistake of turning a character designed for short interview sequences and sketches into a character with a three act arc. It lacked the interviews that made Ali G a star. The film did not work. Between Two Ferns does not make this mistake. At the front and centre of this film is what makes the show so successful: Zach Galifianakis conducting uncomfortable interviews. The film is filled with them. The stars are big and recognisable: everyone from Peter Dinklage to John Legend to Matthew McConaughey makes an appearance. The eclectic range of the cast- from Instagram stars to famous interviewers to actors- will make sure everyone who sees this film can watch an interview they enjoy. This film is at its strongest when we are presented with these interviews.
The film’s plot is faint and tenuous. “Plot” is perhaps the wrong word. Rather, it is a thin storyline used to connect the interviews together. A dot to dot. A barely visible frame. In this sense, Between Two Ferns: The Movie borrows a lot more from Borat than Ali G. It is a mockumentary about the making of the show, with elements of the road trip and quest movie genres. Zach and his team have to travel around America, as in any road trip film, getting celebrity interviews within two weeks so that Zach can get his dream talk show deal, giving it a quest movie feel. In reality, the plot is an excuse, a set up, in order to connect some celebrity interviews together.
This is not necessarily a weakness, however. Between Two Ferns: The Movie is at its strongest when Galifianakis is roasting the celebrity guests. They are as funny and awkward as fans of the show expect. Some of the plot heavy, between interview scenes do work, but mostly when they connect directly to a celebrity interview to increase the level of humour: the John Legend sequence is a notable example of the show within a show blending with the outer story in humorous fashion. Another example is when Zach is “walking through the door of adventure” nonchalantly and coolly as he introduces the viewer to his documentary, only for it to cut behind the scenes and reveal that we are witnessing the twenty first take. When we are just given “plot”, such as the crew meeting for drinks in the bar, the film falters. Fortunately, these plot heavy scenes are few and far between, so that they do not get in the way. The pan shots turning towards the crew, zooming into their face, as they look at Zach in disdain and embarrassment are glorious. They have as much meme potential as similar shots in shows like The Office. This is a mockumentary, not a drama. For this one instance, the less plot the better.
Fans of the show will love this feature length adaptation. The hilariously unpleasant atmosphere of the celebrity interviews have been preserved, and we get many more of these funny interviews. All of them are linked together with a thin “plot”, but the film never allows the behind the scenes framing plot to slow the film down. Rather, some of the scenes off set work as comedy gold in their own right. Given the rather simple premise, and lack of a narrative, about the original show, the film adaptation can be watched by anybody. You do not need to see the show to get it. And if this is your introduction to Between Two Ferns, you will be hooked immediately.