Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rick Alverson’s hip drip,THE COMEDY, opens for a week's run at BAMcinématek

Self-hate as entertainment? Interesting concept, problematic execution. The rich sure as hell are different from you and me, as Rick Alverson proves in his oh-so-ironically-titled new movie, THE COMEDY. If our non-hero, Swanson (is he part of that old "chicken" dynasty?), played by Tim Heidecker, were not an heir to what appears to be quite a fortune, he couldn't possibly live the kind of life we see here. At least this movie -- unlike so many that offer up weird characters about whom we spend most of our time wondering how in hell they support themselves -- gives us a guy who, as unappealing as he is, seems remotely real.

I say remotely because of one enormous problem that Alverson's movie encounters (the director is shown at right) but doesn't even try to surmount: the lack of consequences to the actions -- every single one of them if I am not mistaken -- taken by his Mr. Swanson, who spends nearly the entire film acting the hipster swine that he evidently wants to be. Yet never has hip seemed closer to drip. The Comedy begins with a scene of drunk, overweight and rather sleazy-looking men having "fun." Further written description will simply beggar belief: You need to see this one to believe it. Turns out this is a kind of "men's group," probably organized and funded by Swanson (unless all these guys are heirs of some sort) whose purpose is to make fun of existing culture -- from the workplace to religion, sex, famly, love, and rock-n'-roll (the music here seems as dank & joyless as the fellows we must watch).

As Swanson's provocations toward work, religion, family and the rest push that envelope further and further, we wait for the reprisal that surely, in any real world, must come -- those consequences mentioned earlier. So nasty, ugly and stupid are this man's words and deeds (much more of the former) that surely someone will soon flatten him with a punch to face and then to the gut. Or call the police. Or pull out the gun (that more and more Americans seem unable to live without) and fire away. Yet those consequences never arrive, for Mr Alverson consistently cuts away from the action prior to their arrival, and so the movie loses much of its credibility, despite some excellent work from Mr. Heidecker in the central role.

We learn almost nothing about any character except Swanson (and come to think of it, we learn damn little about him, only of his wealth and his bad behavior) -- everyone else is interchangeable -- except one young woman, a waitress in a restaurant where Swanson has obtained a job (as a dishwasher, of course: Oh, the irony!). In the film's best scene -- because, finally, our guy gets as good as he gives, and for a few moments the playing field seems leveled -- our dishwasher and waitress have a verbal go-round that results in a "date."  On that date something happens that, again, demands consequences -- or at least some kind of continuation so that we may see what happens and how Swanson handles this. Sorry. No can do.

This constant refusal to risk -- not closure, but simply taking a scene to its demanded end -- robs the character, the movie, us viewers and, yes, Mr. Alverson, of the opportunity to learn and grow a little. When, at last (at the finale, of course) that chance for growth comes -- via a cute little child. Please! -- the stab at redemption (more like re-dumb-tion) can't help but smack of sentimentality. If Swanson had to watch this scene, rather than play it, he'd have some nasty stuff to say, before laughing himself sick.

If men behaving badly is your thing, goodness knows the movie takes this to new heights (or depths). The film is a constant put-on, perfect for intellectual S&M. But if you are searching for something different (as we sophisticated movie-goers always are), by all means take a look, and make of it what you will.


After seeing the film and composing this review, I then read the writer/director's "statement" about his movie. I think I understand what Alverson is saying and trying to achieve, and I applaud his motives and his goal, even if I don't believe that he has come very near it. In that Director's Statement, he says, " interest was to link the audience and the protagonist through their mutual desire for emotional animation and sensitization. For me the audience, the viewer, and Swanson are in the same predicament, are driven by the same conflicting set of desires. I am ultimately interested in the denial of those hopes, for the resolve of his animation (emotional or physical) or the satisfaction and relief of his salvation. I think that middle ground {the italics are TrustMovies'} is the state in which we most often live and one from which the audience and Swanson both desire to flee, one that is denied its due in entertainment and even the grand drama of many of the arts."

OK: fair enough. Alverson has taken us from that middle ground. But unfortunately he had not given us a believable reality to replace it. Actions like those shown here have consequences, I suggest -- both in the middle ground and elsewhere.

In any case, The Comedy begins its week-long run here in the NYC environs at BAMcinématek this Friday, November 16. In the Los Angeles area, it is current playing at CineFamily and will move this Friday, 11/16, to the Downtown Independent theater.  Other dates/cities in and during which the film will be offered include November 23 (San Francisco and Chicago); November 27 (Duluth); November 29 (Albuquerque); November 30 (Denver, Austin, Phoenix and Columbus; December 7 (Seattle, Tuscon and Boston); December 9 (Bloomington -- and back to Williamsburg, Brooklyn!) For us couch potatoes, the movie made its VOD debut this past October 24 and will continue there for awhile, I should imagine.

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