Whether the film’s protagonists are on stage singing a song or telling a joke, the male ego commands the spotlight in “Folk Hero & Funny Guy,” in which two childhood friends — one a successful folk rocker, the other an aspiring standup comic — hit the road together for an impromptu tour. While women are wooed and hijinks experienced along the route of this dive-bar odyssey, writer-director Jeff Grace’s easygoing indie delivers a somewhat more melancholy performance than its droll exterior initially suggests. A bromance with a bitter streak born of personal delusions, fears and failings, it’s got enough personality and pathos to make it a mildly appealing option amid the usual cacophonous summer fare.
After his latest comedy-club misfire, gawky Paul (Alex Karpovsky) meets up with longtime buddy Jason (Wyatt Russell), a heavily bearded folk-music star whose hippie vibe proves irresistible to women. As if on a whim, Jason asks Paul to open for him at his upcoming gigs, — fully supporting his friend’s desire to ditch a lucrative advertising career to become the next Chris Rock, especially in the aftermath of a bitter break-up. Despite reservations, Paul agrees, only to find that they won’t be travelling in a stylish tour bus to arenas, but instead will be road-tripping in Jason’s Volvo hatchback from one low-rent venue to another.
The modest venues turn out to be a blessing for Paul, since he bombs at each stop, due to an outdated set low-lighted by a cringe-inducing bit about Evites. In those moments, contrasted by the adulation Jason receives from fans and romantically inclined groupies, “Folk Hero & Funny Guy” mines its central odd-couple dynamic for shaggy laughs.
The alternately funny and borderline-contentious rapport between the two friends is complicated by Bryn (Meredith Hagner), an amateur singer who, upon meeting the men, seems to be on the verge of hooking up with Paul, only to fall into the drunken arms of Jason. To make matters messier, she joins their tour as the opening act, leaving Paul sandwiched on stage between two competent musicians each night.
As their journey progresses, Jason reveals the real motivation for this impromptu series of shows: He’s intent on making it to Charleston, where he hopes to finally pledge his undying love for Becky (Melanie Lynskey), with whom he’s previously had a number of fantastic (if fleeting) encounters. Given Jason’s hard-partying outlook, as well as the blasé arrogance of his belief that Becky will ditch her fiancé now that he’s suddenly ready to settle down, the plan is clearly doomed. Nonetheless, “Folk Hero & Funny Guy” is hardly predicated on narrative surprise; rather, it’s mostly interested in the off-kilter but natural chemistry of its leads, who despite their differences come across as comrades who genuinely care about each other, and whose bond is solidified by their shared hangups.
The movie is most assured when casually exposing the ways in which men assess their self-worth. For both Paul and Jason, that process entails not only evaluating their own professional and romantic fortunes, but also the fortunes of each other, to whom they invariably compare themselves. Grace’s visuals are functional at best, and Adam Ezra’s original songs are forgettable. Complemented by strong supporting turns from the perky Hagner and the commanding Lynskey, however, Karpovsky (insecure, yet persistent) and Russell (genial, yet cocky and entitled) are charming enough to carry the film as it segues from cheery to gloomy to cautiously optimistic.