An uncomfortable mix of anti-PC bullying, laconic social critique and Cassavettes-style realism, Rick Alverson’s The Comedy is a challenging movie. An experience of endurance, rather than entertainment, it’s basically Jackass with a brain. A real puzzle. I wasn’t sure whether I should walk out or give it a standing ovation. Either way, it’s a painful ninety minutes.
One half of the creative team behind Adult Swim’s flatulent sketch show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, Heidecker’s brutal depiction of Swanson encapsulates, and furthermore parodies, the exact audience from which he has become a cult demigod – the trust-funded, apathetic hipster. Instead of the garish surrealism of said TV series, The Comedy is rooted in documentary-like naturalism.
Aimlessly wandering around his stomping ground of Williamsburg, New York, Swanson spends his days trying to find substance for life – picking up jobs as a dishwasher even though he’s loaded, travelling across town via his cosy houseboat, heading into ghettoised bars so that he can rile up/bond with the local “brothers”, and chatting to drunk women about how feudalism is great and Hitler misunderstood. Far from just testing the patience and credulity of the characters onscreen, Alverson is reaching out to the audience watching The Comedy. Whether the embittered sentiment of the film is ironic, genuine or otherwise is dependent on your own tolerance level and engagement with this truly unsympathetic, crass character.
Uncritically speaking, I found Heidecker’s performance mesmerising, but the character unrelenting nasty. In partiocular, there’s a bedroom scene late on in the movie which left me feeling abused and nauseous. A powerful reaction to cinema, but certainly not a welcome one!
If you feel compelled to sit through this venomous, albeit fraught comedy, it would make for perfect double bill with the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. Not only do both movies feature the humble DFA Records boss James Murphy, they both wryly depict the ennui and societal disconnect of an ageing American subculture.