Feels Good Man

 

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A character study of a cartoon frog proves to be one of the year’s most satisfying and accomplished documentaries. 

 
Feels Good Man

 

Back in March, I reviewed TFW No GF fairly positively. I was thankful that a documentary about Internet culture existed at all, let alone one that treated its subject matter seriously. Half a year later, I realise that I don’t have to settle. Feels Good Man approaches a similar story in a mature, nuanced way, blowing TFW No GF out of the water in every single regard.

 

Arthur Jones’s debut feature follows Matt Furie, an independent comic creator and artist, as he deals with the fallout of having his creation ‘Pepe the Frog’ co-opted by the American Alt-Right into a symbol of racism and hate speech. Matt is interviewed along with family, friends and fellow artists, who all explain how surreal it was to watch the innocent character’s meaning transform on the global stage during the 2016 election. It’s a very personal approach, yet also an informative one that contextualizes the events in a simple and digestible way. Internet slang like ‘meme’ and ‘kek’ are defined academically, as if 4chan is an ancient society being unearthed and studied by archaeologists. Perhaps, in a way, it is. The reason that most media about Internet culture isn’t taken seriously is because the majority of the world reacts to it dismissively. What Jones’s film illustrates so beautifully is how that very lack of understanding is what, in part, directly led to the election of Donald Trump.

 

This focus on politics is presented evenly alongside Furie’s legal battle to reclaim his Pepe’s image, because in many ways they are one and the same fight. Art is politics, and politics is an art. The way that images and text can be manipulated and twisted to serve nefarious functions is integral to understanding not only the plight of struggling artists like Furie, but also to recognizing the failings of the media that brought America to its current political position. It’s a heavy and intellectual conversation, but one that is made entertaining by bright, colourful drawings and fluid animations. The spirit of art is alive in this documentary, and Furie’s relentless belief in the power of positivity and love adds some welcomed levity, preventing the film from dipping too deeply into a nihilistic and pessimistic tone.

 

Without giving too much away, the conclusion to Furie and Pepe’s story is satisfying and hopeful in equal measure. Covid-19 has delayed the majority of high-profile releases in 2020. This is regrettable, but it also means that a character study about a cartoon frog who was born, bred, killed, and born again on the Internet might be the most endearing and accolade-worthy film of the year. That’s a wonderful thing.

 

CALEB JOHN CUSHING

 

Dir Arthur Jones, Pro Nancy Stephens, Rick Rosenthal, Aaron Wickenden, Regina Kulik Scully, Julie Parker Benello, Joe Plummer, Jenny Patinkin, Douglis Patinkin, Nion McEvoy, Jenifer Westphal, Caryn Capotosto, Leslie Berriman, Giorgio Angelini, Steven H. Cohen, Paula M. Froehle, Lou Bugliol and Susan E. Morrison, Screenplay Aaron Wickenden, Giorgio Angelini and Arthur Jones, Ph Guy Mossman, David Usui, Giorgio Angelini and Kurt Keppeler, Ed Aaron Wickenden, Katrina Taylor and Drew Blatman, Music Ari Balouzian and Ryan Hope, Sound Lawrence Everson and Cindy Takehara Ferruccio.

 

Ready Fictions/Wavelength Productions/XTR-Storyville.

87 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 19 November 2020 (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam). Available on BBC iPlayer. No Cert.