If the sight of a herd of corpulent men grinding against each other’s pasty, Pabst-slathered bodies and prancing about in the nude to Donnie & Joe Emerson’s “Baby” is likely to inflict lasting trauma on your mind, steer clear of “The Comedy.” Tim Heidecker of Adult Swim’s “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” settles into the lifestyle of Swanson (not to be confused with Ronald Ulysses of Pawnee, Indiana), a 35-year-old trust fund man-child who devotes his time and undeserved money to being a public nuisance. While it is clear that Rick Alverson (“New Jerusalem”) is prodding the viewer for a reaction of some sort, the end result is 94 minutes of character study with no plot-line and no payoff. Be warned: this film is by no means “audience friendly.”
Picture Dennis the Menace, age him three decades and slap on a beer gut. What you now have before you is white male privilege at its vilest, and our Alverson-Schwartzbard tag team exploits this specimen from every unflattering angle. Swanson, at times accompanied by his likewise reprehensible Brooklyn bros, intentionally staggers his way into scenes that generally involve stretches of execrable talk-fests and acts of social aberrance. At night he returns to his home, a boat anchored off-shore, now and then with a fresh, young “flavor of the night,” wooed by deadpan discourse on the virtues of Hitler and feudalism, on his arm. Standing in for exposition is the sporadic presence of Swanson’s death-bedridden, comatose father, but as previously stated, there is no premise for the loosely strung-together episodes that feature our odious hero’s purposeless capers. The reason it is so difficult to go into the plot of “The Comedy” is because there is an utter lack of one.
Every drawn out second of this movie drips social criticism, most conspicuously upon the emergence of nihilistic hipster subculture and the modern notion that irony is a pair of retro sunglasses that will shield you against the harsh glare of reality. But the average moviegoer will be forced to dig deep for such a connection between the unpleasant (and often sociopathic) characters and the implications of the “stagnation of the culture in which they live,” as Alverson describes it. This inaccessibility for the viewer may be attributed to the chosen format. A feature-length film, even with Alverson’s vision filtered through a faux-mumblecore screen, has no hope of keeping its head above water without some semblance of a plot; the purpose (if there is indeed any, because that matter is arguably still up for debate) may have been better realized as a short film or a montage piece or anything that doesn’t require everything that is missing in this film.
Another thing to note is that a character doesn’t need to be likeable in order to be a good or valid character to portray on film. Despite the collective talent and efforts of Eric Wareheim (“Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”), James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), Kate Lyn Sheil (“V/H/S”) and Gregg Turkington (a.k.a. Neil Hamburger), “The Comedy” misses the mark as a movie in its own right, because the writers somehow forgot that even character study, at 94 minutes, needs a story.
“The Comedy” offers a patchwork of characters choking on their own sense of entitlement, a decent tracklist (featuring Gayngs, William Basinski, Gardens & Villa, etc.), and an unrepentant stab at exposing the mildewed state of our society. For the brave and very patient film enthusiast, “The Comedy” is now available On Demand and in limited theatrical release.
Rating: 2 stars