THE COMEDY (2012)

THE COMEDY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

TheComedy

As THE COMEDY opens, a guy named Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is having a drunken party with his friends, which evolves into nudity and outrageous behavior. This occurs during the opening credits. It’s a good introduction to this man and his world of debauchery and idiocy.

When we next see Swanson, he is verbally harassing his father’s male nurse (Seth Koen), whose lack of reaction reveals that he’s endured this many times before. Swanson’s father is in a coma in his bed at home, and Swanson is clearly conflicted about his father’s condition. This conflict lasts a few minutes. Then he goes out for a day of mayhem.

This involves such weirdness as walking by a group of landscapers working on someone’s yard and suddenly chipping in to help. When the house’s owners come outside, he takes advantage of the fact that the workers can’t speak English, and pretends to be their supervisor and asks if his men can take a dip in the pool, creating a really awkward moment until the owners agree. At this point, Swanson just goes along his merry way, having accomplished a moment of anarchy. Later, he ends up in a bar where he is the only white customer, saying offensive things that could lead to a beatdown. Later still, he and his friends harass a cab driver for not having a working radio, and partake in some sophomoric behavior inside a church.

Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.
Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.

Just about everything Swanson does is meant to offend and piss off someone. To put it in a nutshell, Swanson’s behavior shows that he is a complete asshole, and the title of the movie has an ironic ring to it, because while some parts of this movie are funny, just as many parts are uncomfortable and even unpleasant. This is not really a comedy, after all.

Swanson lives on a boat, and spends most of his time drinking (and often puking overboard). He does whatever strikes him at a given moment, like suddenly entering a restaurant and applying for a job as a dishwasher (even though he’s about 40). It’s clear that he is well off and doesn’t need to work, yet he does these things on a lark, knowing that if he grows bored, he can always just walk away.

Somehow, despite his arrested development, Swanson is able to get girls. He “seduces” one woman at a party with banter about how feudalism could have worked if given more of a chance, and that Hitler may have had some good ideas “if you take away the killing part.” Another woman, who he meets at his dishwasher job (the first time they meet, he tells her he’s a registered sex offender), ends up back at his boat and he watches with mild curiosity as she unexpectedly has an epileptic fit.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

He also, surprisingly, has lots of friends, all of whom seem as idiotic as he is. These include Eric Wareheim (Heidecker’s cohort on the late night Adult Swim series TIM AND ERIC, AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!), stand-up comic Neil Hamburger and musician James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame).

So it’s not like Swanson is an isolated loner with no friends or girlfriends. He’s found lots of like-minded people to hang out with. And yet, he appears to have complete disdain for people in general and the world around him. He has no desire to work a real job (and clearly doesn’t have to) and has no desire to take on any kind of responsibility.

By the end of the movie, chances are good that you will want to punch Swanson in the face. And you’ll wonder why someone doesn’t punch his lights out every day of his life.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I found myself liking this movie.

I’ve always enjoyed comedians who sought to make their audiences squirm more than laugh, and THE COMEDY is this kind of comedy. It’s not laugh-out-loud kind of stuff (although there were a couple of times when I did laugh); it’s more like, “how much can Swanson get away with before someone decks him” kind of humor. Director Rick Alverson does a great job of making this work. Without a skilled director at the helm, this movie could easily have deteriorated into the story of a really annoying guy, which would just be a waste of time. There are scenes when you actually wonder whether or not everyone onscreen is “in” on the joke (like that scene in the barroom, where you can feel the tension building up, the more Swanson talks). And despite his complete obnoxiousness, there are moments when you feel something for Swanson as a human being, even if most of the time that feeling is repulsion.

Tim Heidecker is amazing (and fearless) in the lead role here, and he seems to be the perfect choice for this kind of thing. His Cartoon Network/Adult Swim series with Eric Wareheim is known for its bizarre, off-the-wall style that is often more weird than funny. But if you haven’t seen that show—or aren’t aware of it—then you’ll have an even better reaction to THE COMEDY.

 Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

You may like this movie; chances are more likely that you will completely hate it. But it will get a reaction out of you. And director Alverson has stated that that was his main mission in making THE COMEDY, to get a reaction out of moviegoers who are usually lulled to sleep by brainless blockbusters. If you “get” what’s going on here and enjoy your humor especially dark, you might see this as a work of bizarre brilliance. If you don’t “get” it, you may want to jump through the screen and kick Swanson’s butt. But be forewarned, you will have a reaction. That is guaranteed.

So Alverson’s mission is a clear success.

I hesitate to rate this one.  I enjoyed it in a perverse way—but then again, I’ve always had an affinity for unlikable characters —but I bet most of the people reading this review would hate it.  So instead of a rating, let’s just say, if this sounds like something you’d want to see, see it. If not, then you will probably avoid it anyway.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

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