×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Comedy

Rick Alverson's cheekily titled "The Comedy" is not without a certain subversive intelligence.

With:
With: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rasmussen, Gregg Turkington, James Murphy, Jeff Jensen, Liza Kate.

For a catalog of aggressively stupid, socially deviant male behavior, Rick Alverson’s cheekily titled “The Comedy” is not without a certain subversive intelligence. A dark, determinedly abrasive study of a slovenly Brooklyn hipster who spends his abundant free time harassing cab drivers, disrupting churches and assaulting everyone he meets with discomfiting sexual and racial language, this singular Sundance entry is certain to split reactions every which way; for some, the film’s critical view of its subject may not be enough to compensate for the displeasure of his company. Fans of star-comedian Tim Heidecker notwithstanding, post-fest commercial prospects look slight.

A memorably repulsive prologue depicts a bunch of guys carousing in and out of their underwear, sloshing their chubby, pasty-white bodies with beer. But this is no fraternity hazing ritual: Well into their 30s, these emotionally deadened man-child pranksters are overgrown in every sense, leading lives of such undeserved privilege that they can afford to regard the world with sniggering indifference to social niceties or human struggle. Masters of squirm-inducing comic cruelty, they perform for each other, for the unsuspecting strangers unfortunate enough to cross their path and, of course, for the viewer.

The film spends a plot-free 94 minutes following one of the men, Swanson (Heidecker), as he wanders around Williamsburg and other parts of New York, stirring up all manner of minor chaos. Addressing a nurse assigned to take care of his wealthy, bedridden father, Swanson delivers a badgering monologue about lower bodily functions. Getting into a political discussion with a girl (Alexia Rasmussen) at a party, he extols the virtues of feudalism and compliments Hitler. Somehow she winds up in bed with him on his houseboat, to which he brings the occasional date, ferrying her across the bay in his dinghy.

Some of Swanson’s stunts — such as when he poses as a gardener and asks a well-to-do couple if his Mexican buddies can swim in their pool — carry unsettling racial overtones, though they project not outright prejudice so much as an impish child’s unformed view of the world outside his bubble. Elsewhere, he and his friends get together for the equivalent of comedy writers’ roundtable sessions, holding extended mock conversations on inane and vulgar topics, and occasionally asserting their love for one another in voices tinged with sarcasm.

Given his surreally unhinged antics with funnyman partner Eric Wareheim (cast as one of Swanson’s bearded buddies) on their Comedy Central series or their concurrent Sundance premiere, “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” Heidecker seems almost subdued here. Onscreen nearly every minute and often wearing thick-rimmed blue sunglasses, the thesp gives a compulsively fascinating performance replete with weird facial tics, vocal inflections and gestures. There are moments throughout, including the ambiguous final scene, that suggest Swanson is beginning to experience a flicker of empathy. But any confirmation of this is firmly withheld by the script (by Alverson, Robert Donne and Colm O’Leary), as are any telling details about Swanson’s background apart from his obviously wealthy family.

A level of monotony does creep in, and unreceptive viewers may well argue that to devote a feature-length movie to these sorry specimens of humanity, even in a harshly evaluative light, is to give them far too much credit. In scrutinizing so specific and pernicious a subsect of American culture, Alverson can hardly be said to be getting at universal truths, although some may well recognize, with a wince, the characters’ impulse to respond to the distant suffering of others with an insensitive one-liner. Pointedly, the focus is so entirely on the protagonist that one gets only the vaguest sense of his victims’ humiliation; scene by scene, the film sets up its joke and leaves it to us to recoil from the punchline — even, or perhaps especially, when it’s genuinely funny.

Alverson’s unfussy filmmaking breathes quiet assurance, as Mark Schwartzbard’s HD lensing and a deftly underplayed synth score (by Alverson and Champ Bennett) invite the viewer into a contemplative state. Mumblecore regular Kate Lyn Sheil has a brief, effective role as a waitress in whom Swanson might just have found his match, at one point taking their puerile performance art to an inexplicable extreme.

Popular on Variety

The Comedy

Production: A Jagjaguwar presentation of a Greyshack Films/Glass Eye Pix production in association with Made Bed Prods. Produced by Mike S. Ryan, Brent Kunkle. Executive producers, Chris Swanson, Darius Van Arman, Ben Swanson, Jonathan Cargill. Directed by Rick Alverson. Screenplay, Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O'Leary.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Mark Schwartzbard; editors, Michael Taylor, Alverson; music, Alverson, Champ Bennett; art director, Emily Kaplan; costume designer, Isabel Crosby; sound, Allison Jackson; re-recording mixer, Gene Park; special effects makeup, Brian Spears; associate producer, Larry Fessenden; assistant director, Mike S. Ryan; casting, Brandon Powers, Harley Kaplan. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 22, 2012. Running time: 94 MIN.

Cast: With: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rasmussen, Gregg Turkington, James Murphy, Jeff Jensen, Liza Kate.

More Scene

  • Laverne Cox Charlie's Angels

    How Laverne Cox Landed a Cameo in Elizabeth Banks' 'Charlie’s Angels'

    Laverne Cox officially earned her wings, scoring a role in Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels.” But she revealed her cameo almost didn’t happen. When the Emmy-nominee heard that Elizabeth Banks was directing the film, the longtime fan of the franchise (and of Banks herself) reached out about being part of the project. Cox had previously worked with [...]

  • Lena Waithe'The Inheritance' Broadway play opening,

    Lena Waithe, Anderson Cooper Attend Broadway Opening of 'The Inheritance'

    “The Inheritance” pulls viewers in many directions — toward pain and hope, trauma and healing. It’s what brought stars like Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Lena Waithe to Broadway on Sunday — a chance to heal, to remember and grieve. Also in attendance for the premiere at the Barrymore Theater [...]

  • Cybill ShepherdTrevorLIVE, Show, The Beverly Hilton,

    'The L Word' Co-Stars Cybill Shepherd and Jane Lynch Reunite at TrevorLive

    Fans of Showtime’s “The L Word” will be happy to hear that Cybill Shepherd eagerly reprised her on-screen romance with former co-star Jane Lynch on Sunday night at the TrevorLive Gala at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. While accepting the champion Award, Shepherd kissed Lynch not one, but twice. The “Moonlighting” star was recognized [...]

  • Rami Malek, Robert Pattinson and John

    Robert Pattinson Praises Fans for Raising Funds for Go Campaign: ‘It’s So Sweet’

    Robert Pattinson is giving back, but he’s even more impressed that his friends and fans are joining him in the fight. “It’s amazing,” Pattinson told Variety on the black carpet outside Neuehouse in Hollywood at the Go Campaign’s annual gala. “And they’ve done it every year. It’s kind of — it’s so sweet and I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content