Friday, May 3, 2013
THE COMEDY: SURPRISINGLY DARK & SUBTLY BRILLIANT
The Comedy may frustrate some viewers as the main character; "Swanson" (Tim Heidecker) is a very unlikeable human being yet because he's the center piece of the story and he’s funny, you feel like you're supposed to care about or have some type of emotional investment in him (his father just died and his brother is in an insane asylum). But I'm pretty sure we're supposed to dislike Swanson, his group of friends (made up of Eric Werheim & James Murphy of LCD Sound System) and everyone he represents. Just treat the main character in The Comedy the same way you'd treat Alexander DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange) or Troy Duffy (Overnight) - intriguing to watch but not someone to root for. As I watched The Comedy, Rick Alverson's third feature film about a bored, self centered, aging Brooklyn hipster coasting through life being a shitty person, I was reminded of that whole Vice magazine/street carnage/pseudo-artsy/pitchfork media/not racist but racist/sarcastic/"indie" Brooklyn hipster type. Actually, I wonder if Rick Alverson had a person like Gavin Mcinnes or even Vincent Gallo in mind when he wrote this. I've lived in NYC since 2005, have a music studio in North Brooklyn (Williamsburg/Bushwick) that you have to take either the L or G trains to get too (two subway lines synonymous with Brooklyn hipsters) where I spend a decent amount of time at. Most of the music venues I go too are in Williamsburg and I read the occasional Vice magazine/Street Carnage article (which usually leads me to being pissed off) so I'm a bit familiar with that whole scene and this film kinda pins it down and shows how shallow it can sometimes be. But Brooklyn hipsters aren’t the only focus of this film. Any type of comedy or "art" that tries to be provocative yet instead comes off as offensive, racist, sexist and just plain unfunny gets called in to question (even stuff I may personally like) - From all the new age sketch comedy & viral videos on YouTube to stand-up comedians in the vein of Louis CK, Patrice O’Neal (R.I.P.), Jim Norton & Paul Mooney or even Seth McFarlane to a certain extent. Any type of humor or art that’s made you stop & question whether or not something is funny & button-pushing or just downright fucked up kinda subconsciously comes up while watching The Comedy.
Sundance film festival programmer Trevor Groth described The Comedy best when he called it a critique of a culture based at its core around irony & sarcasm and about ultimately how hollow that is
(I almost don’t wanna write anything more. That’s one of the best & most accurate descriptions of a film I've ever read)
Alverson's cynicism towards hipsters is still pretty evident. There's plenty scenes of the characters in the film drinking Pabst, wearing their ironic looking thrift store sunglasses, riding around on fixed gear bikes just being cliche...
Certain aspects of this film reminded me of Soderbergh's Schizopolis (a world I sometimes wished Soderbergh would revisit). Both films break down the pointlessness of dialogue & conversation between people and they both have the same kind of random humor. In one scene we find Swanson at a party having a wordy, borderline pretentious conversation with a girl about socialism, then in another equally executed scene, he's having an in-depth conversation with a stranger (played by comedian Neil Hamburger) about the cleanliness of hobo dicks. Both of those scenes/conversations are treated the same as if to say no matter what people talk about (from so-called important social issues to dick humor - it can all be pointless sometimes). You ever find yourself at an artsy Brooklyn hipster party and listen in on some of the conversations going on around you and start rolling your eyes wishing everyone would just shut the fuck up? This film plays on that.
The Comedy also has that type of dark humor found in a Todd Solondz film like Happiness or Welcome To The Dollhouse where you question if you should be laughing at something or not.
Some feel The Comedy is also about redemption to a certain extent and I guess I kinda see that but I think due to Alverson's last feature, New Jerusalem, a religious drama about redemption & evangelism, people wanna make a connection that's barely there between two films directed by the same guy.
Even though I was warned and read quite a few reviews (I even met someone who worked on this film last summer who was quite open about the making of it) I still didn't expect The Comedy to be as dark & serious as it was at times. Not to say that this is on the same level of seriousness as an early Haneke film but when all you have as a reference is Tom Goes To The Mayor & Tim & Eric Awesome Show it’s understandable to get thrown off by the tone of this film. Tim Heidecker surprised the hell outta me with his breakout lead performance and I’d honestly like to see him collaborate with other filmmakers & actors outside of his comfort zone (possibly Todd Solondz? I think that would be a powerful duo).