By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
If you’ve ever seen the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, or the unclassifiable mindfuck that is Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, you know that Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have their own very unique brand of humor.
When I saw the two were headlining a film entitled The Comedy, I assumed it was more of the same. Then it got into Sundance, and started drawing serious reviews of a different caliber than their previous efforts. Hmm…
The Comedy is actually a project by indie filmmaker Rick Alverson, even though it stars Heidecker and features Wareheim in a prominent supporting role. Swanson is a listless 30-something trust fund kid whose dad is on his deathbed. Perhaps this is what unmoors him from reality, but most likely he’s always been spoiled and directionless, spending his days drinking, sailing his boat, joking around with his similarly-minded friends and avoiding anything resembling a real conversation, and lastly and mostly, fucking with everyone around him in as disrespectful a way as he feels he can get away with.
While he spends the majority of the film screwing with people, Tim Heidecker is almost unrecognizable. The effectiveness of the film hinges entirely on his performance, and he delivers. He’s sarcastic, immature, entitled, and almost entirely one-dimensional, but he still feels like a fully realized, living, breathing person. It’s a fierce performance from someone I had no idea could act, and worth watching the film all by itself.
The film may come off as a tear-down of hipsters or trust fund layabouts, but even if you don’t run in those circles you should recognize some common traits with somebody you know. These are bloated, post-30 Peter Pans who were never told ‘no’ enough, and never even attempted to grow up as a result.
And it just gets sadder…
They’re vaguely dissatisfied with their lives, even though they pretty much get what they want, and don’t know how to put in the effort to improve themselves. Swanson and his friends take this further, with their “comedy” that serves as a further buffer between them and the world… and even each other. No interaction between them has the slightest depth or meaning, and if they stopped and thought about it they probably couldn’t explain why they were friends at all.
The filmmaking itself is fairly standard close-ups/soft focus/roving camera indie film stuff, but it suits the subject and keeps the focus on the performances, capturing nuance and allowing the actors to shine. The soundtrack, mostly diagetic, is also quite good (and makes me a bit sad to share music tastes with these people).
What’s the point? While the film does a great job establishing and showcasing its characters, there’s not a whole lot of plot for them to take part in. It essentially boils down to repeated brinksmanship and general douchebaggery by Swanson & friends, which is plenty entertaining, but stops telling us anything new fairly quickly. Also, attempts to give Swanson some sort of reason for being fucked up, like coma dad or a brother in the nuthouse, are inessential and a bit insincere. People I’ve known like this just are… they’re forces of nature, no excuse necessary.
Like beautiful deer…
For its price point, Pabst Blue Ribbon is a perfectly good beer. There, I said it. It does not make me a hipster, it makes me a person who has drunk a lot of cheap beer, and knows their relative quality.
Outside of that, one scene left a bad taste in my mouth- the one where Swanson is cockblocked by a seizure. It seemed like a pointlessly bizarre scene more in line with Tim and Eric’s other forms of comedy- and opens up an interesting possibility. Are they just trolling us all, and this is just another Tim and Eric joint with fancier pants? Hmm…
In a lot of respects, this feels like an aged-up, male-centric Girls. If you can look past the general obliviousness and despicability of the characters, you’ll find some sly commentary and fascinating depth.
Take a Drink: whenever a character does
Take a Drink: every time someone spits
Take a Drink: every time Swanson is abusive or dickish
Take a Drink: every time you suspect Swanson may have a touch of the autism
Do a Shot: for every instance of nudity