Funny Farm (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Novelist moves to country.

Uninspired comedy about a man named Andy Farmer (Chevy Chase) who receives an advance from a publishing company, which he uses to quit his job and buy a cabin out in the country with his wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith) in order to write his novel. Unfortunately the local citizens are eccentric in very clichéd ways and their time there is spent dealing with one crazy misadventure after another.

Right from the start this film proves to have no footing in reality. Publishing companies only pay advances to authors who are already published and proven. They do not shell out $10,000 to some average unpublished Joe with only a vague idea for a story. Many publishers won’t even look at a finished manuscript from someone unless they are already represented by an agent and have some sort of track record, which renders this entire premise as ridiculous.

The movie starts off too quickly with them moving to the country without any set-up. The characters themselves are extremely bland and the script does not take advantage at all of Chase’s cynical, sardonic humor, or impeccable comic timing. Smith is certainly pleasant on the eyes, but things could have been more interesting had they been played-up as spoiled city slickers like the Lisa Douglas character from the TV-series Green Acres and then forced to adjust.

The humor is sloppy and uninspired and shows no level of sophistication. It is thrown in haphazardly without any consideration for story progression, or character development.  Much of it is not funny and the whole thing seems like a stretched out episode from the old Newhart TV-series and in fact the film was shot in Vermont were that series took place. The only mildly amusing moment comes when Andy goes fishing with some of the men from town and ends up accidently throwing them all overboard and even that is worth only a small chuckle. The final segment were Andy and Elizabeth convince everyone in the town to act like people from a Norman Rockwell painting and have them study covers from old issues of the Saturday Evening Post, as  they think this will make things seem more appealing to prospective buyers, is utterly preposterous.

The only time this film has any possibilities is when Elizabeth ends up not liking the story that Andy has written. Being a writer myself and having dealt with other writers I can attest that this can happen more than you think. In fact famous horror novelist Richard Laymon stated that his number one rule of things not to do was giving your manuscripts to friends and family members to read because it can create needless acrimony. Things get dicey when Elizabeth writes a story that sells, but the sterile script by Jeffrey Boam fails to take full advantage of this scenario and the results become as disappointing as everything else.

I did like that it was shot on location. The cottage is nestled away in a scenic area and the viewer gets the feeling that they are ‘getting away from it all’ along with the characters.  Capturing it during all four seasons is another plus. I also thought that the realistic looking stuffed squirrel was cool and I wish I could find one of those for myself.

Sadly, this was director George Roy Hill’s last film. He had much more success with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slapshot, and The Sting to name just a few. None of his genius shows up here as it is quite mechanical and formulaic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: George Roy Hill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

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