In the annals of great directors George Roy Hill definitely deserves some consideration. The man who brought us films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slaughterhouse-Five, The World According to Garp, won an Academy Award for Best Director for The Sting. This was just one of the thirteen Oscars, (out of thirty-seven nominations,) that his films collected during his career. Sadly, posterity will always remember that his final film was today’s entry, Funny Farm. A silly, sometimes sappy, 1988 Chevy Chase vehicle that just doesn’t quite work. This is a disappointment, because its not like Hill couldn’t direct comedy; the guy directed Slap Shot.
Anyhow. Funny Farm. In some ways it’s your prototypical 80’s comedy. Chevy Chase stars as Andy Farmer a New York City sportswriter who begins the film by relocating, (along side wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith)), to a house on the outskirts of a rural hamlet, so that he can work on his novel. Of course, once they get there, nothing goes right. Andy suffers from writers block, feuds with the mailman, and is generally flummoxed by the bizarre locals. At times Chase is really fantastic, especially in a few scenes when he’s slipping into a comedic neurosis. Unfortunately, at other times he just seems to be going through the motions.
Of course, this could be because the film doesn’t give him much to work with. The screenplay is adapted from a novel, and I got the impression that the screenwriter, Jeffrey Boam, had a hard time deciding what plot elements and funny scenes from the book should be included, as a result the whole movie has a sort of haphazard feeling, scenes don’t seem particularly developed or connected. This isn’t helped by some sloppy editing. At one point there is a scene where a character mentions that July is “seven months away,” which would mean that it’s December, then the film cuts to an exterior establishing shot showing a sunny day with green grass and the trees in full bloom. At first I thought this meant that we’d jumped ahead in the narrative to July, but the next two scenes firmly established that it was still December, and moments later another exterior scene has inches of snow on the ground and people ice-skating on the pond. Clearly someone in the editing bay dropped in the wrong establishing shot, and nobody noticed, which is amazing because its really jarring.
This film isn’t without its merits. It has a few really funny scenes, and the final fifteen minutes are pretty great. Also, as I mentioned, when Chase is on, he’s on, and there’s nobody better. Unfortunately these portions amount to a minority of the film’s running-time. As for the rest, it isn’t that it’s bad, it’s just that it isn’t really good. It’s a sort of mildly amusing diversion and nothing more.
In the past I’ve given films a bump in my ratings for marking an important moment in movie history, so I thought about calling Funny Farm “worth seeing” because its Hill’s last film, but I don’t think it’d be right to do here. First of all, despite his contributions to cinema history, George Roy Hill is no Cary Grant. Second, this really isn’t how I’d recommend his career be remembered. If you want to mark the man’s career, see Slap Shot, or see The Sting. Don’t bother with Funny Farm, it doesn’t live up to the name.