The 400-Word Review: The Comedy
By Sean Collier
November 11, 2012
A universal irony: watching people attempt to be funny and fail is impossibly sad.
When the misbegotten jester refuses to accept that they cannot amuse, though, it tends to pass even deeper into the bleak and pitiable.
You can witness this in The Comedy, the meditative new film from musician and filmmaker Rick Alverson. The Comedy stars Tim Heidecker (of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job” fame) along with a crew of similarly-minded young artists.
The plot - decidedly secondary - follows Heidecker, here playing a brash and distant Williamsburg heir and ne’er-do-well, as he floats along attempting to get a rise out of passersby and experimenting coldly with human emotion. His attempts at mayhem and frivolity range from the offensive to the merely immature, almost always at the expense of normal folk; if our playboy learns from his experiences, we don’t see it.
The description sounds like a dismissal, but it’s not; as a matter of fact, it’s the film that does the criticizing. The Comedy - which, if it isn’t clear already, is not a comedy - is a scathing indictment of irony and distance, lampooning and pitying those with a seeming allergy to sincerity. One wonders if anyone as despicable as Heidecker’s character truly exists (although if they do, they certainly live in Williamsburg); regardless, though, the message is clear: a life played for pure irony is sad, isolating and pathetic.
A viewing of The Comedy is uncomfortable, though intentionally so. It’s an unabashed art film, so those expecting a clear narrative or polished structure will be frustrated. It’s themes and ideas will ring clear, though, and there’s a certain hazy quality to the photography that contrasts starkly and movingly with the despicability of the characters.
The only stark flaw in The Comedy, then, is the casting of the lead. Heidecker is intelligent and nuanced, and he delivers a memorable performance; however, the antics of his built-for-scorn character exist in the same wheelhouse as the absurdity of Tim and Eric. The duo’s comedy is derived more from absurdity than irony, but to deny that Heidecker is embracing smart, winking satire in life and attacking it on screen is naive.
That’s a larger debate, though, and one that reads very little on the screen. The Comedy should be required viewing for anyone who thinks themselves above it all — and those sick of that attitude, as well.