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- Published on Amazon.com
You probably aren't reading this unless you already know a fair amount about this film and also know that its impossible-to-Google title is an "ironic" misnomer. If I may quote Sundance program guy Trevor Groth on The Comedy: "It's a provocation, a critique of a culture based at its core around irony and sarcasm and about ultimately how hollow that is."
Unfortunately, I find I cannot agree at all with Mr. Groth's summary. Casting Tim Heidecker as the lead in a movie with that intended message would be like someone in the late 1960s making a propaganda film on how electric guitar is a regressive scourge upon Western music, then using nothing but extensive concert footage of Jimi Hendrix to "make" their point.
No, if The Comedy has any central message-- and I am not sure that it does-- it's a more general existential message, not just a cautionary tale for unfeeling 4chan addicts and other self-made high-functioning sociopaths of our time.
I'm not a trust fund baby like Heidecker's character in The Comedy. But the older I get here in the oh-so-privileged West, the more I think and the more I learn and the more I live, the harder it becomes to ignore the emptiness and futility of modern life and existence itself, and to continue functioning... heck, even *pretending* to function in the context of such meaninglessness.
The central characters in The Comedy have reached the same conclusion, but have the further luxuries of endless spare time and being able to buy their way out of any semi-reasonable situation that their antics might potentially cause. They live to entertain themselves and, having given up on any purpose to higher intellectual pursuits, have regressed almost entirely to the behavioral level of twelve-year-old boys. They are shallow, petty, and mean to each other; they treat other humans even worse. There's no real effort made to show what holds this group of obnoxious hipster buddies together, and that's possibly because there *is* nothing holding them together, at least beyond pure inertia and/or exhausted ennui.
I'm not sure what exactly inspired Rick Alverson to make this movie, since in many ways it is as completely aimless and pointless as the characters about which it revolves... but I honestly cannot imagine this movie even being conceived without its lead actor being a central part of said conception from the get-go.
That's not precisely what you'd call a compliment, even though Heidecker is legitimately brilliant in the role, and I'm a huge fan of Tim and Eric besides. Any other huge T&E fans who have watched these guys, particularly Tim, cultivate their ultimate-a****** personae to perfection in interview footage over the last few years will find few surprises in The Comedy.
After all, that's Heidecker's role: a completely insufferable, unwatchable American grownup who has regressed into willfully inappropriate and wildly disrespectful behavior at every turn in daily life, with no motivation beyond generating cheap thrills for his own self-amusement. The whole movie is built around an amped-up version of a character Heidecker has already played in other venues over and over (to the point where I'm actually a little worried he might be *becoming* the horrific jerk he's so fond of playing).
The one big surprise is that, unlike the unrepentant horse's patootie Heidecker so enjoys playing in various comedic-performance venues, you actually get to see a few cracks into the devastating loneliness and desperation of this character toward the end of The Comedy.
And there's the message of this movie, if-- again-- there is one at all. A guy in his mid-30s, effectively dead inside, having already discovered beyond a doubt that this is all there is, is still desperately hoping that this *isn't* all there is. As he wanders in and out of increasingly ridiculous scenarios in an attempt to shock himself back out of numbness, he looks more and more at the lives of others who have not been so successful at deconstructing the myth of actual human meaning with simultaneous envy and longing.
In one of the movie's final scenes (no spoilers, promise!), he briefly flirts with one of the most popular means of attaining a false sense of meaning for contemporary middle-class Americans in their 30s and beyond. It's the only time his on-screen behavior isn't reprehensible in the entire movie. It's also the first time in the entire film that his character appears to be legitimately happy, however fleetingly or falsely.
I've missed a few movies in the last few years, I'm sure, but I've not seen a movie this likely to push a viewer into extended weeks-long depression since The Wrestler. At least Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler seemed to have *one* reason for being. Not exactly a must-see movie, and certainly not for everyone (not even T&E fans, who tend to skew somewhat younger in general and will probably miss the entire point).
But it's still a beautifully shot piece of ambient depresso-cinema. The deeply cynical and jaded may enjoy it, in whole or in part... to whatever degree we can still enjoy anything.