Review: Feels Good Man — Fantasia Festival 2020

Matt Furie is a soft-spoken cartoonist living in San Francisco with his wife and daughter. Mild mannered to a fault, Furie immediately smacks of a conflict-adverse, peace-keeping man. He almost certainly had no idea what 4Chan, the online collection of volatile chat boards, was. Then, the site’s users co-opted his most famous cartoon image: Pepe the Frog.

Arthur Jones’ Feels Good Man traces the evolution of Pepe the Frog, a character Furie used in his comic strip “Boy’s Club” that was transformed into an incredibly popular internet meme. What began as an innocuous piece of internet ephemera quickly turned into a tool for internet trolls and the alt-right political movement in America, leading it to be named as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Jones’ films examines the fallout of this ADL categorization on Furie, whose only goal with the “Feels Good Man” slogan was a harmless urination joke. While the interviews show him taking this insane snowballing of his creation in surprising stride, he nevertheless appears distraught over losing control of something that he created with no intent for malice. But Jones also appears drawn in by the morbid intrigue of the 4Chan rabbit hole. This is understandable, as it is a dark, curious hole of the internet, but I cannot help but feel that the documentary loses something by chasing this rabbit. I am the type of person who finds the interpretation and transformation of a symbol’s meaning to be inherently fascinating. But tracing the lineage of Pepe’s use and meaning keeps Furie out of the film for much of its midsection. And this is, at its core, a film about Furie.

Feels Good Man becomes a film about reclaiming a hate symbol and how, in the internet age, this seems like a futile pursuit. Every attempt by Furie to alter the meaning of Pepe, to shift the image back to a peaceful place, is met with retaliation from 4Chan. But Furie’s crusade comes late in the film, making it feel like a somewhat rushed subplot. And as the film follows Furie through lawsuits, it also pauses for a strange subplot about cryptocurrency. The subject matter of Feels Good Man is fascinating, and it provides many threads to follow, but the focus of the film shifts in odd ways. Perhaps the material is just too cumbersome for a doc of this length.

On a more general level, though, the film is fairly engaging, particularly if you do not know the full story of Pepe. And when the doc returns focus to Furie, it really shines as a piece about the glimmers of humanism that exist in the face of the great, daunting irony machine that is the internet.

 

Feels Good Man: B

 

 


As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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