Movie Review: The Comedy
Length: 90 min
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2012
Directed by: Rick Alverson
Stars: 3 out of 5
"The Comedy" is a movie that provokes extreme reactions. While some viewers walked out of the movie theater, others hailed it as an inspirational attempt to highlight the destructive power of excessive self-indulgence. Supporters claim the film is before its time and that it will become a cultural classic in a few decades. Even the title, "The Comedy," has shades of dark humor that permeate the movie, which is about a spoiled rich white brat who is very close to inheriting his father's wealth. Tim Heidecker plays that brat, Swanson, who is bored of living a life in which he can do anything he wants and have whatever he desires.
Leading a life that many others would describe as a dream existence, Swanson does his best to connect with real life, but he does so in the most obnoxious manner possible. Director Rick Alverson quickly helps the audience understand that Swanson is desperately disconnected with reality. Having lived a life of complete luxury, he indulges in crazy and thoroughly irrational activities like passing racial taunts in an African-American bar, or taking up a $7.50 per hour dishwashing job just to see how others would react.
He seems far too intelligent to be dumb. Yet he does not show any interest in finding a purpose in life. While we see Swanson trying to connect with reality, we see no real effort on his part to move out of his golden cage and live in the real world. "The Comedy" is not a movie you can logically critique. It is a film you experience.
The plot consists of nothing more than a series of humorous yet disturbing instances of disruptive behavior by Swanson and his pals (Eric Wareheim, Gregg Turkington, and James Murphy). The opening sequence of the movie shows the friends, some wearing just underwear and some completely naked, spitting beer at each other and grooving to R&B tracks. They intentionally disrupt prayers in a church and blow out prayer candles just for fun. They sing their favorite songs at the top of their voices in a taxi because the driver refuses to play the radio. Sloshed half the time, they spend most of their time being obnoxious to others.
The protagonists' cruel attempt to ridicule the male nurse in charge of his father's care clearly establishes that he has no emotional attachment whatsoever. While it is clear that Swanson is not likeable, it is never quite clear why he is suffering from so much pain and angst.
"The Comedy" breaks one of the most fundamental rules of making movies: it does not attempt to establish an emotional connection between the characters and the audience. This takes some time to overcome, and, weirdly, the movie seems to make a lot more sense once it becomes evident that the director doesn't care whether you like Swanson or not.
Swanson's attempts to verbally assault a waitress (Kate Lyn Sheil) backfire, and for once, he ends up on the receiving end. His decision to invite her to his boat for a date piques the interest of the audience, but Swanson's indifference to Kate's full-blown seizure in the middle of the date leads the audience to the now-standard crazy antics.
From defending Hitler to paying $400 to a cab driver for a twenty-minute stint at the wheel, Swanson never ceases to amaze the audience with the sheer ingenuity he shows in creating awkward situations. Tim Heidecker is entirely believable throughout the movie and, rather scarily, never seems to be uncomfortable with his own bizarre antics.
The scene where he pretends to be the leader of a group of immigrant gardeners and demands that a homeowner let them enjoy a dip in the pool is pure black humor. Swanson backs off the moment the owner agrees, and you sense that he found the owner's acquiescence slightly disappointing.
The plot highlights the immense disconnect between real life and the lives of the rich and self-centered. Self-indulgence is taken to the extreme to help us see how terribly monotonous and pointless such a life can become.
Once the director establishes his message, he never fulfills the premise, despite audience expectation. This may be the biggest flaw of the film. On the other hand, the director's refusal to end with a lesson might be a lesson in itself. The movie can best be described as a provocative critique of the hollow culture being perpetrated all around us.