Funny Farm (1988) – A Review

Chevy Chase Madolyn Smith Funny Farm 1988
Chevy Chase and Madolyn Smith in Funny Farm

New York City sports writer Andy Farmer (Chevy Chase) and his wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith) leave the bustling city for a quiet life in the town of Red Bud Vermont where Andy plans to write a novel. There they’ll enjoy the quiet countryside, the relaxing atmosphere and the charming locals. At least that’s what the Farmers think.

Their optimistic picturesque vision of country living begins unraveling very quickly. Oddball townsfolk, unpredictable wildlife, unusual local delicacies and a serious case of writers block start to wear Andy and Elizabeth down and this change of lifestyle soon puts a strain on their sanity and marriage.

They end up ready to unload the place and go their separate ways. To entice prospective homeowners the Farmers concoct a wicked scheme that will play on the allure of the perfect country life – even if they have to create the illusion themselves.

But perhaps before the Farmers sign over the papers they’ll discover with all the problems and annoyances there’s still some charm to be found in Red Bud and maybe they’ll learn moving there wasn’t the biggest mistake of their lives.

Funny Farm 1988 comedy Chevy Chase Madolyn SmithChase’s film career was filled with more misfires than hits. After leaving Saturday Night Live in the late 70’s for the world of movies everyone thought the popular star would be on cruise control making plenty of funny films. Yet that ride began to hit a series of major potholes and by the time the 90’s came around Chase’s name and reputation had become tarnished beyond repair leaving him and his filmwork a punchline to many comedians.

One of the few brighter ‘Chevy Chase movies’ was 1988’s Funny Farm. While I wouldn’t say it’s a comedy classic like his most popular handful of films, it’s also not as embarrassingly awful as some of the others he had done. The ones where you look at and wonder why on earth did he bother doing them. The ones that he must had done just solely for the money. And picking scripts must had come down to ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’. Did he really think even for a moment they were funny or expect audiences to laugh? Yeah, those ‘Chevy Chase movies’.  

Funny Farm doesn’t fall into that category. Luckily it sits snuggly just below his most popular comedies. Then right below it there’s the huge drop off of crap.

It’s sort of a movie that at the beginning of Chase’s film career one might have thought would have been one of the lesser Chevy Chase movies on a resume of cinematic hilarity. But with the nonsensical, terrible choices he had made it’s become one of his better flicks.

Funny Farm movie poster 1988

I’m sort of being unfair here with using that grading scale. But there’s not a lot of ‘average entertaining Chevy Chase movies’ around. Funny Farm does have some funny moments, an enjoyable bouncy score be Elmer Bernstein and is much smarter than the way it was promoted.

The movie poster featured Chase with a cracked egg on his head and a goofy look on his face. Seeing that image one might think it was a real silly, zany, juvenile outing like Modern Problems. Maybe that’s what kept audiences away from it.

I remember Siskel and Ebert being real champions for this movie. And they were not huge Chase fans by any stretch. In one of the funniest Siskel and Ebert moments they appeared on The Tonight Show while Chase was there promoting Three Amigos. Honest as ever they both basically said they thought the movie was terrible. Hysterical interview. That was back when talk shows were worth watching.

But even with Gene and Roger’s thumbs way up high for Funny Farm when I ventured out to see it the theater had a ton of empty seats in it. It’s too bad, it was one of the last funny Chase movies made. I also always thought it was very strange that it was the final film by director George Roy Hill too.

The film is basically a series of misadventures of Andy and Elizabeth dealing with small town life. It’s a whole fish out of water scenario.

There’s some routine slapstick with the couple navigating through their Dutch door bumping and falling and animals causing the city slickers some panic and always ending with them screaming and running away. Inevitably they meet a cadre of strange citizens of Red Bud. They’re all weird or annoying. Some of the characters are amusing, some aren’t.

Madolyn Smith sexy Funny FarmSmith holds her own with the comedy, never overdoing things or trying to upstage Chase. Plus, she’s incredibly cute! I had a crush on her after seeing this movie and thought the idea of moving into a remote house with her would be the ultimate country living. Just throw in a barn filled with hay to roll around in with her and I’d be good to go!

Chase is less a smart-aleck here than his usual screen persona. Andy Farmer is overly optimistic at the start of their big move. As much as he tries to stay positive the mounting problems become too much and he gradually turns into an angry jaded cynic. It’s sort of a Clark Griswold type of character. Chase was able to do that kind of part pretty well.

One of my favorite little scenes is after struggling with writers block and Elizabeth being critical of what he’s come up with on paper she soon begins to write on her own. Hearing her typing away nonstop in the other room Chase sits chugging on a bottle of liquor with a disgusted look aimed at his wife’s overflowing creativity. It’s a very funny moment

The movie really picks up when everything has gone south, the Farmers are ready to divorce and have to sell their house. They concoct a scheme to pay the townsfolk to help create the idealized Norman Rockwell-esque type of town everyone wants to believe exists. With this small town charade in full swing the Farmers hope to sucker someone into buying their house.

Chevy Chase Funny Farm comedy movie 1988

There’s some gorgeous scenery and all the season’s greetings, good will and stunning greeting card images become hysterical when you know it’s all a big put-on. As Chase looks around at the lengths to which the town of Red Bud is going to help sell the image of small town life all in return for some dough, he mutters, “This is going to cost us a fortune.”

Funny Farm was never a favorite of mine, but I find it enjoyable enough and it can be a satisfying flick to watch on a lazy day. I don’t think you should have high expectations for it though, despite what Gene and Roger thought of it.

The trailer that really tries to play up the wacky adventures and pratfalls that were the easiest way they thought they could sell the movie to audiences – it didn’t work.


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2 Responses

  1. CKULIK says:

    Great review! This is definitely above average for a Chevy Chase comedy, along with FLETCH and FOUL PLAY. I watched that bit with Siskel & Ebert with Chase in the documentary LIFE ITSELF and found it very funny. Still, aside from the VACATION movies, I never really liked Chase as I always found him a bit too smug and full of himself. And, yes, Madolyn Smith is damn cute! 🙂

  2. spaceodds says:

    Never saw this film, and I do not plan to since I'm no fan of Chevy. The guy starred in a lot of horrendus films that were not funny and just plain silly. Fletch is probably the only movie he starred in that was any good, and that's because he did the OTT comedy when he was doing the numerous impressions and pretty much played it straight when he was out of the make up. I do like Fletch and its a shame the sequel ruined it. There's was rumour that Chevy was in the running for the lead role in American Beauty, I always wondered how that movie would have turned out with Chevy instead of Spacey?

    Can't believe this was George Roy Hill's last film, he went from The Sting to this. What a shame. Reading this review I can't help but think about one of the very few John Candy films I didn't find amusing, The Great Outdoors. That film had it all two great comedics actors (Candy and Aykroyd) A John Hughes script and a premise that would have played well…. only it didn't.

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