You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Punching Henry’

Comic Henry Phillips and director Gregori Viens re-team for another comedy in which Phillips plays himself for laughs.

Henry Phillips, Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Stephanie Allynne, J.K. Simmons, Jim Jefferies, Ellen Ratner, Mike Judge, Mark Cohen, Clifton Collins Jr., Doug Stanhope.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4283414/

Comic singer-songwriter Henry Phillips continues to engage as a likable loser in “Punching Henry,” a sharply observed and understatedly amusing follow-up to “Punching the Clown,” the prize-winning 2009 indie in which he played a chronically luckless character modeled, and named, after himself. Mind you, it’s not absolutely necessary to have seen that earlier film for you to appreciate this one (which, like its predecessor, Phillips co-wrote with director Gregori Viens). But if you are familiar with the 2009 opus, your enjoyment here may be laced with melancholy, since it appears that Phillips — or at least his on-screen alter ego — is still going nowhere fast while doggedly chasing his dream.

As “Punching Henry” begins, Phillips remains stuck in the lower depths of show business, telling jokes and performing tongue-in-cheek tunes before small audiences (and, sometimes, aggressive hecklers) at second- and third-tier comedy clubs in flyover country. Five years after inadvertently blowing a big break in L.A., he returns to the scene of his shame at the urging of his motherly manager (Ellen Ratner), who is the bearer of remarkably good news: A high-powered TV producer (J.K. Simmons) wants to package a reality show about Phillips’ ongoing travails as an underemployed D-lister. Cable network executives warm to the pitch — “Sisyphus meets Charlie Brown!” — but insist that, even before a pilot can be planned, Phillips must attract an enthusiastic following through social media.

Unfortunately — and, yes, predictably — Phillips is the sort of unassuming schlemiel who’s quite capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of success. Indeed, a scene in which he obtains a reduction for a parking-violation fine is the closest the movie comes to allowing him any sort of clear-cut triumph.

Reprising a device from “Punching the Clown,” Phillips and Viens effectively construct their narrative as a series of episodes linked by a wryly revealing interview (conducted, in this case, by Sarah Silverman as a podcast host). The assorted vignettes run the gamut from showbiz satire to sitcom-style riffs as Phillips repeatedly endures frustration and/or embarrassment while interacting with close friends, passing strangers, and fellow performers. The funniest misadventures include heated conversations with an irate cab dispatcher (Doug Stanhope), demeaning mishaps during gigs at less-than-stellar venues, and an ill-fated attempt to impregnate, at the couple’s request, the wife (Stephanie Allynne) of his best friend (delightfully dry-witted comedienne Tig Notaro).

Phillips, who has the everyman look of a younger John Heard, is such a sympathetic sad sack throughout “Punching Henry” that it’s occasionally discomforting to watch what happens to him. But that is a major part of this low-key comedy’s charm: You’re never laughing so hard at the protagonist that you don’t feel at least a tiny bit of his pain.

Film Review: 'Punching Henry'

Reviewed online, Houston, Feb. 23, 2017. (In SXSW Film Festival.) Running time: 94 MIN. (Original title: “And Punching the Clown”)

Production: A Well Go USA Entertainment release of a Permut Presentations production, in association with Tilted Windmill Prods., Whitewater Films Prod., Kandoo Films, Lola’s Prods. Producers: David Permut, Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal, Jim Hart, Arun Kumar. Executive producers: Luca Costa, Atif Malik, Robert J. Harley, Chris Mangano, Bert Kern, Nick Morton, Howard Barish, Sean McEwen, Brandon J. Hogan, Alan Pao, Luke Daniels, Deborah Ratner, Adam Brawer, David Beitchman, Henry Phillips, Gregori Viens.

Crew: Director: Gregori Viens. Screenplay: Viens, Henry Phillips. Camera (color): Bryce Fortner. Editor: Michael R. Miller.

With: Henry Phillips, Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Stephanie Allynne, J.K. Simmons, Jim Jefferies, Ellen Ratner, Mike Judge, Mark Cohen, Clifton Collins Jr., Doug Stanhope.

More Film

  • CAA Owner TPG Buying Payroll Specialist

    CAA Owner TPG Buying Payroll Specialist Entertainment Partners

    TPG Capital, the massive private equity firm that owns Creative Artists Agency, is buying payroll specialist Entertainment Partners for an undisclosed price. Entertainment Partners’ management team, led by president and CEO Mark Goldstein, will continue in their roles. The agreement was announced Tuesday with plans to close the deal during the second quarter. More Reviews [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Agents Accuse Writers Guild of Threatening to Throw 'Industry Into Chaos'

    UPDATE – The dealmakers appear to be getting nowhere. Negotiators for Hollywood agents and the Writers Guild of America have achieved little progress at their seventh session on Tuesday, with a chaotic scenario looming on April 7. “When Guild leadership is ready to move on from their declared threatening phase, we stand ready to work [...]

  • Zoe Lister-Jones The Craft

    'The Craft' Remake Finds Director in Zoe-Lister Jones

    “Life in Pieces” star Zoe Lister-Jones will write and direct Sony Pictures’ remake of “The Craft” for Blumhouse and Red Wagon Entertainment. Doug Wick, the producer of the original “The Craft,” will return in the same capacity along with partner Lucy Fisher through their Red Wagon banner. Jason Blum is also producing and his Blumhouse [...]

  • Carol Burnett

    Carol Burnett's Mother-Daughter Story 'Carrie and Me' in Development as a Movie

    Carol Burnett’s bestseller “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story” is in the works as a movie at Focus Features with Burnett, Tina Fey, Eric Gurian, and Steven Rogers producing. Burnett will produce through her Mabel Cat Productions with Fey and Gurian under their production banner Little Stranger along with Rogers (“I, Tonya”). The sibling [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Plans for Agency Pact Expiration: 'There Will Be Difficult Moments'

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent members contingency plans for the possible expiration of its agency franchise agreement on April 7 — and admitted that it may be a rocky road. Members received the letter Tuesday from the guild’s negotiating committee as the WGA and agents were about the hold their seventh [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Entertainment One, Universal to Partner on Home Entertainment

    Entertainment One and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment have signed a multi-year, multi-territory distribution agreement. UPHE will serve as the home entertainment distributor of eOne’s offerings across both physical and digital formats. The pact covers film, television, and select family content and includes all sales, marketing, and distribution, spanning the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Spain, Australia, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content