The Flyover Film Festival advertised The Comedy with stories of outraged people fleeing the theater at Sundance. While I knew that the film starred Tim Heidecker, of Tim and Eric fame, and could certainly see the level of infamous offense he could cause, I did not exactly know what to expect from the Saturday night screening. Well, what I got was the best film I have seen all year.
Heidecker plays the wealthy son of a terminally ill, comatose-appearing man, who has nothing but his eternal boredom and sarcastic friends to keep him company. From the very start, the film roundly identifies him as a man trying to get a reaction out the people around him. Spouting the most offensive, alarming or intrusive things, he waits patiently, impossibly alone, for his words to grow into something, anything.
As the film winds around the important or mundane moments of his life, it begins to feel much less like the sociopathic urge that it first seemed and shifts into something close to genuine. The question surrounding the narrative asks why he acts this way. There is a search to belong as he tries to apply for different, menial work, but he also appears to search for sincerity that comes so easily to everyone else. And then, as if he has trouble spotting the difference, he turns situations into an opportunity to anger or offend.
It is undoubtedly a filthy film. Phrases and images are thrown on the audience, both trying to entertain of course, but also in clear reflection of the characters as they wail like children, merely wanting to see how adults, or the audience, would react to different stimuli. Writer/director Rick Alverson bathes this movie in viscous irony, and then films to see if it can claw its way back out. Heidecker expertly plays a man shouting derision down a well, straining painfully to hear any echo at all.
The tone is so purposefully held, balancing between the external humor and the internal drama, never far away from either. The pacing lays it out as slick as you'd like. Alverson told me that there was no scripted dialogue in the production, he just cobbled a script of event and themes he wanted to show and then let the actors interpret them. Other notable alternative comedians like Neil Hamburger and Eric Weirheim make cameos, and the inclusion of this type of humorist adds so much to both the entertaining aspects of the film, but also to the gravitas that must hide somewhere in their comedy, which is purely absurd incongruity.
As the film progresses, and you’ve calloused up to the blisteringly funny lengths it will go, softer edges show. You wonder whether it is true, and then you wonder whether it matters if it is true. Actions prove ultimately stronger than words, and you can almost see a definite sweetness before hard walls come down once more.
The Comedy embodies modern Western humanity. This film expresses a type of cultural philosophical search that is just starting. Our contemporary humor with its continued mockery and post-post-post-irony digs a cavity into sincerity, making serious consideration of general truths all but impossible. This film notices that cavity and has the filthy, insulting balls to look down into it and see if there is any light on the other side.