Logline: A serious comedy about a friendless anti-obesity crusader and a trust fund manchild who vie for the heart of a reclusive animal activist, releasing her demons and forming an unlikely ‘family’ in the process.
The thing that binds the principal characters in SXSW standout Funny Bunny is their beautiful, oblivious idealism.
We first meet Gene (Kentucker Audley), a man in his early 30’s, as he is going door-to-door inadvertently insulting “customers” while trying to get them on his page about childhood obesity. This cause leads him to a friendship with the self-named Titty (Olly Alexander) a wealthy young man of about eighteen who has an internet friendship with activist shut-in Ginger (Joslyn Jenson) that he would like to see advance into something more….if only that wouldn’t dare to ruin what he has with her now through a computer screen.
After Gene is finally kicked out by his ex (Anna Margaret Hollyman), he is at a low point and decides that helping Titty actualize his relationship with Ginger is going to be his main priority. Gene sets off on a road trip with Titty in tow having no plan except to remain tenacious in his quest and regroup in the face of failure. Once they do find Ginger, their plans begin to fall apart in ways they could not have predicted and the groundwork for a possible path to true happiness is presented.
It’s striking how close many of the principal (and supporting) characters’ decisions skirt mental illness. Sometimes Funny Bunny plays their quirks for laughs and sometimes it doesn’t, but it never seems artificial or disrespectful. Great care and respect is given to every character beat and moment among the three leads (who all have co-writer credits with director Alison Bagnall) and so no matter how ridiculous or frustrating a character behaves on their respective journeys it is engaging and believable throughout.
As Gene, Audley (who pulled off the trifecta of acting as co-editor as well) takes someone most people wouldn’t want to spend time with on paper and makes the viewer deeply invested in his journey. He achieved the same difficult hat trick in his lead role in Dustin Guy Defa’s underrated masterpiece Bad Fever but here adds enough specificity to his characterization that his Gene stands apart. Bagnall has fluency with characters involved in intergenerational friendships and relationships, having co-written the indie classic Buffalo ’66. She also directed the wistful The Dish and the Spoon, which had it’s world premiere at SXSW in 2011. That one also had British actor Olly Alexander pulling double duty as co- writer/star.
Here Bagnall achieves something just as complicated, frustrating, and rewarding as the characters themselves and it is a joy to go where she takes us.