Tim Sutton is relatively new to directing but is already developing a distinctive voice. Cinephiles will see nods to several established directors such as Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, and Stanley Kubrick. But it never feels like he’s ripping off or even paying homage. Instead, it feels like a student learning his craft by doing sketches of famous work and then finding ways to put his own spin on it.
There are some problems with Funny Face. A few dangling plot threads and abandoned characters. Rhea Perlman and Dan Hedaya are in the first scene as Saul’s grandparents. They discuss their upcoming eviction and hit some real pathos as an elderly couple completely helpless to save themselves. Hedaya, in particular, gives a heart-wrenching performance that is going to shock anyone who thought he was just a comic actor. But, they never interact with Saul, and after that scene, they are never heard from again. Honestly, I can’t decide if this would be a continuity error or the movie suggesting that Saul made them up.
Cosmo Jarvis gives a stunningly heartbreaking performance that evokes a young Harvey Keitel or James Cann. He is simple but not stupid. Painfully shy but prone to fits of explosive rage. Newcomer Dela Meskienyar is Zama. A young Muslim lady who is angry at the death of her father and is lashing out at the world. She is quite convincing in the role. The two characters literally stumble into each other’s lives and become friends for no other reason than they need one another. Two desperately lonely people find and prop each other up. Sutton decides to have this relationship be undefined. It is almost a chaste friendship, almost a tragic romance.
“Sutton has a great deal of sympathy for all the characters…”
Sutton has a great deal of sympathy for all the characters in Funny Face, not just the “heroes.” He could have very easily have focused on his protagonists and their various struggles, but instead, he spends at least a third of the plot developing the antagonist. Through The Developer, the filmmaker explores the emptiness of avarice, the complete dead-end that awaits anyone taking the path of pointless accumulation. A man who has all the trappings of material wealth but is leveraged so deeply in pursuit of more, he is literally broke. Not just financially but spiritually. Not just broke but broken. His personal savings are as empty as the parking lot he’s trying to build. Johnny Lee Miller gives a fascinating turn as the empty shell of a man who is slowly destroying himself in an endless pursuit of consumption for its own sake.
The writer/director also doesn’t feel the need to dazzle us with witty or clever dialogue. As a filmmaker, Sutton believes in showing, not telling. Because, and I hate to break this to the aspiring Tarantino wannabes and Smith clones out there, but cinema is a VISUAL medium. At several points during the film, the dialogue, if anything, feels superfluous. One does get the feeling that you could enjoy everything on display with the sound off and still follow the story.
Funny Face is a rare gem of a film that will keep you guessing from beginning to end, and you’ll be lucky if you get to see it.
"…Sutton believes in showing, not telling."