Funny Farm (1988) — City slickers move to Gonzo Acres

“We came to Redbud filled with hopes and dreams of a better life. And basically, we’ve seen those hopes and dreams crushed and battered before our very eyes.”

Justin’s rating: $50 was a lot more back in 1988 I guess

Justin’s review: The other day I was watching a video essay arguing how there’s been a steep and noticeable decline in comedy movies in the 2010s and early 2020s. Not a decline of good comedies, mind you — comedies period. Somewhere along the line, Hollywood stopped making them as much and we stopped demanding them.

That’s kind of a real shame, especially when you travel back a few decades and see how SNL vets and other brilliant comedians were fueling hilarious projects. Comedians like Chevy Chase and Madolyn Smith and projects like 1988’s Funny Farm.

Sports writer Andy (Chase) starts the film by quitting his job at the paper to pursue his dream of writing a novel. He and his wife Elizabeth (Smith) move out of the city and to the obscure town of Redbud, Vermont (Citizen Kanes present: 0). Their picturesque home and newfound quaint country life seems perfect… but it isn’t long until the couple discovers that Redbud — and their house — are hiding a lot of disturbing goofballery. SHUT UP SPELLCHECKER THAT IS SO A WORD.

The fish-out-of-water formula is a very old one indeed, but handled right, it can get a lot of material out of both the normies and the weirdos. What works well here is that initially Andy and Elizabeth (and their increasingly frustrated movers) start with the assumption that everything operates according to regular principles without understanding how bone-deep crazy everyone and everything is.

But they discover it. Oh yes they do.

This is a town where the mailman is a homicidal maniac, the sheriff continually crashes his car, and the local softball team is the worst you’ve ever seen. It also doesn’t help that their house isn’t quite right in the head either. There’s a coffin in the garden, a door that wants to kill them, an incredibly inconvenient phone, and snakes in the pond.

This may be the most likable role I’ve ever seen Chevy Chase do. Don’t get me wrong: I love me a good frustrated and sarcastic Chevy, but I like that he’s got a softer side here. And Madolyn Smith might well be even better. I kept getting real strong Tina Fey vibes from her, and I mean that in the best of ways. She’s got amazingly good facial and body skills.

Unfortunately for Andy and Elizabeth, the strain of this bizarre situation serves to expose the fault lines in their marriage. Facing a divorce, they rope in the locals to help them sell their house by pretending that Redbud is the most amazing place ever. Christmas hijinks ensue, and perhaps everyone finds their right place in the end.

Don’t let the decade, the PG rating, or the Norman Rockwell-style poster throw you off of Funny Farm. This is one wickedly, gut-bustingly hilarious movie from start to end, helped along by a heaping of heart instead of that mean or ugly streak that more modern comedies (what few of them there are) tend to exhibit.

I lost count of the number of scenes that I genuinely laughed out loud at, which is a darn good testimony to how timeless of a classic this is. I only wish I hadn’t waited this long to see it, because Funny Farm definitely belongs in my collection of ’80s comedy hits.

Didja notice?

  • That is the coolest convertible
  • Remember when we used to take pictures with Polaroid cameras?
  • Remember when we used to have landline phones?
  • Remember when people used to write books on typewriters?
  • Smacking Andy on the forehead is a great moment
  • That bridge is not very structurally sound
  • Elizabeth definitely stole that apple from the picnic basket
  • The face Elizabeth makes when she learns that a mule may be buried somewhere
  • I couldn’t stop laughing at the snake fishing scene
  • Great delivery of “That belonged to my sister. She’s dead.”
  • Guy gets a fish hook in his neck? Punch his lights out for some reason.
  • Yellow Dog hauling in the skeleton arm during the Christmas party
  • The nonstop carolers

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