What Between Two Ferns, which continued to blow up as Galifianakis became more of a household name, offered was the illusion of discomfort. Though Between Two Ferns: The Movie breaks that basic pretense with a gag reel over the credits, which finds Galifianakis cracking up while asking rude questions, like when Brie Larson first got her period, the movie makes up for the absence of venom with a disarming goofiness, established in the first interview where Matthew McConaughey gets drenched in a plumbing mishap. The surreal moments, like Dinklage showing off a carton of Fabergé eggs, out-number the dud gags and nonsensical story beats, like a sequence where Galifianakis has sex with Chrissy Teigen and later gets pepper-sprayed by her vengeance-seeking husband, John Legend.
To concoct a narrative surrounding the interview segments, Galifianakis and Aukerman build an underdog tale about the North Carolina public access station that produces Between Two Ferns facing off against Will Ferrell's cocaine-loving Funny Or Die corporate overlord. (Given recent controversies surrounding the site, which co-founder Adam McKay left in 2018, the portrayal of its public face as a click-hungry, money-obsessed monster is either self-aware or tone deaf.) Besides the prominent actors and musicians, the cast is filled with familiar faces from LA's improv comedy scene, like Orange is the New Black's Lauren Lapkus as the show's producer, UCB performer Jiavani Linayao as a crew member, and frequent guests from the Earwolf podcast network, which Aukerman co-founded in 2010. Spotting the brief cameos from comedians, like viral song-parody master Demi Adejuyigbe or Comedy Bang! Bang! favorite Paul F. Tompkins, is half the fun.
Compared to other risk-taking comedy acts stretched to feature-length, Between Two Ferns: The Movie lacks the go-for-broke subversive energy of Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie or the crowd-pleasing stunts of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat. In a recent interview with the AV Club, Aukerman described the movie as "six years" in the making, but the heavily improvised shooting style, which meant leaving more than a few "crazy scenes" on the cutting room floor, gives the film a free-wheeling sensibility. It's a proudly low-stakes endeavor, eager to riff from one set-piece to the next. More established and less embattled than he was in 2008, Galifianakis doesn't appear excited by the creative possibilities of comic cruelty. He's made a sweet, gentle movie that's properly calibrated to a streaming era where audiences are likely less eager to sit in squeamish agony for 80 minutes. Is he pulling his punches? Perhaps. But maybe the point was never to bloody anyone's nose in the first place.