Whatever you do, don’t believe the copy on the box for this movie. (“Wacky! Hilarious!”) Whoever wrote it obviously never saw the film. When they do see it they’re going to be very disappointed. In fact, a character neatly sums up one of the movie’s main themes when he says “I never saw anything funny that wasn’t terrible — that didn’t cause pain.” That’s not exactly what you’d call “Wacky!”
Funny Bones is a drama about comedians. Tommy Fawkes (Oliver Platt, in his best role to date) is a comic who bombs at his Las Vegas debut. His father (Jerry Lewis, playing a fictional copy of himself) knows that Tommy’s not funny, but he is nevertheless very supportive, smotheringly supportive.
Tommy’s self-doubt and a premonition of his own death drive him out of the country to seek refuge. He heads to Blackpool, England, in search of his roots, and in search of fresh new comedic material. He does find funny material for his show, it is no match for the leaden weight of his father’s past. He must first come to terms with who his father really was when they lived in England. Then he must find his own way to be funny, to step out from his father’s shadow, if his career is to survive.
The subject matter and its accompanying themes are food for thought. For example, the correlation between pain and comedy seems to have some substance to it. But the real reason this movie is outstanding is the performances. Platt and Lewis are great as father and son. Their family squabbles about comedy are unusual, but they feel honest and lifelike. The supporting cast is also very good, in particular, Lee Evans (recently in There’s Something About Mary, as the pizza deliverer). Evans is very funny when he wants to be, and he’s not half bad as an actor.