Alison Bagnall’s Funny Bunny is a shaggy buddy dramedy about a road trip that doesn’t seem to take its characters much of anywhere, in the tradition of the low-budget American road movie that must often elide the potentially money-burning trip undertaken by the protagonists so as to emphasize merely the embarking point and the destination. As with many of the lo-fi road films preceding it, this sense of stasis is intentionally achieved and thematically apropos to Funny Bunny, as it’s inhabited by late-blooming eccentrics attempting to emerge from their respective cocoons.
The film opens on the scraggly, thirtysomething Gene (Kentucker Audley), who walks door to door attempting to alert people to the dangers of childhood obesity. He isn’t trying to sell people anything concrete (he’s an ideals man), and this renders his solicitations weirdly more offensive than if they were nakedly capitalistic. Conventional salesmen are annoying, but the purpose of their intrusions is at least discernable. Gene understandably strikes one as a wacko—an impression not helped by his rapid and indirect way of speaking, which faintly suggests someone with Asperger’s syndrome, or, occasionally, a convicted pedophile required to disclose their crime to their neighbors. There’s just something intensely resistible about Gene that Audley and Bagnall mine for effectively what-the-fuck humor.
Fatefully answering one of the doors on Gene’s route is Titty (Olly Alexander), a skinny shut-in who inhabits his inherited mansion like a squatter, sleeping on a barely furnished bedroom floor. Titty confides to Gene that he speaks online with Ginger (Joslyn Jensen), who tearfully confesses to Titty that her pet rabbit needs money for an expensive operation. The audience may assume that Ginger is scamming the naïve, lonely Titty, whose states of arrested development and sexual frustration are succinctly conjured by his name, but these relationships aren’t so pat. Gene bonds with Titty in spite of himself, and the two go to meet Ginger, who’s as alone and closed-off as they are.
Bagnall and her talented leads (who co-wrote the script with her) appear to effortlessly achieve a tone that’s tricky to sustain, one that abounds equally in absurdism and empathy. Gene, Titty, and Ginger have stature, and, whenever things threaten to get too precious with their nicknames, the rabbit, or Ginger’s sewing and fur fixations, the underlying pain that’s embodied by these affectations is allowed to come roaring unexpectedly up toward the film’s forefront, grounding the behavioral stakes. Audley and Alexander are touching, while Jensen fashions an extraordinary illusion of translucency. Watching Ginger writhe on the floor or supply odd voices for her rabbit, the audience may often feel as if they’re seeing something that they shouldn’t be allowed to witness—something that’s privileged.
Josephine Decker also memorably appears in Funny Bunny, and that’s telling because Bagnall appears to be indebted to the aesthetic of Decker’s own films as a director. Bagnall’s framing has a similar sense of controlled spontaneity, of deep and heightened earthiness that reflects the safety the characters feel in their own lairs, as well as the intimacy that eludes them for the sake of said safety. Funny Bunny is about how estrangement from sex nurtures an estrangement from society at large, and vice versa.
Bagnall stages two exceptionally erotic scenes, one involving Ginger’s potential coupling with Titty, the other between her and Gene, that capture the heightened fear and idealization harbored by the inexperienced toward sex. We see, through Ginger’s halting movements, just how much it takes out of her to touch either man, and we can feel their vulnerability too. These beautifully and convincingly strange moments have a democratic emotional lucidity that’s rare for sex scenes. It’s heartbreaking when Titty asks if he’s ugly, as Ginger recoils from him in the wake of her own manias, which she salves, with Gene, by dressing him up in fur that we assume is intended to inform him with the harmless, comforting aura that Ginger discerns from her rabbit. Bagnall has the bravery to follow her characters wherever they go, allowing them to reveal themselves to her in their own way.