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The Comedy

2012 | 90 min | R

The Comedy


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Movie appeal

Dark humorUncertain



Theatrical release date

 02 November, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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The Comedy Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 15, 2012

“The Comedy” is a misleading title, especially with deadpan extraordinaire Tim Heidecker in the lead role, while regular co-conspirator Eric Wareheim pops up in the supporting cast. Those expecting something along the lines of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” are going to be in for a rude awakening, with “The Comedy” more of a bleak character study about a specific type of person: the sweaty, bearded Brooklyn hipster. Laughs are nil in this extended staring contest, finding director Rick Alverson more consumed with exhaustive nothingness, punctuated with a few genuine scenes of behavioral study. It’s a long, painful sit that claws at interpretational ambition, but only nails the rare moment of enlightenment, wasting 90 minutes of screentime to acquire about 15 minutes worth of substance.

Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is a detached 35-year-old man facing the death of his elderly father and the possible inheritance of his fortune. Living in a daze on a boat, Swanson spends most of his day avoiding sincerity with his equally slack friends (including Eric Wareheim), killing time by openly disrespecting everything they come into contact with, while carrying on with a distinct lack of hygiene. In need of structure and responsibility, Swanson fantasizes about employment, even taking a job as a lowly restaurant dishwasher, where his meets a similarly acidic waitress (Kate Lyn Sheil). While his life advances in slow motion, Swanson flirts with feeling; however, his thick exterior of sarcasm is impossible to slice through, gradually calcifying the man as he advances in age.

Amazingly, it took three men to write “The Comedy,” with Alverson, Robert Donne, and Colm O’Leary masterminding a production that seems fully formed out of extended improvisations. It’s a conversational mood laced with arsenic, greeting Swanson and his pals as they ruin every moment through mischief and insensitivity, carrying on like a pack of 7th graders who’ve recently ditched their chaperone. They crack wise with one another, musically berate a cab driver who doesn’t have a working radio, and loudly storm a church where they blow out votive candles, slide around on pews, and take pictures with statues. These thirtysomething men are children with scraggly hair, gray beards, and blank expressions, doing whatever they can to avoid a situation that calls for feeling, with Swanson a particularly deadened individual facing troubling emotional issues stemming from the impending death of his father and the continued isolation of his life.

The endgame for “The Comedy” is easy enough to comprehend, it’s the journey that feels unnecessarily slack and repetitive. The aimlessness of the effort is too calculated to surprise, with Alverson creating a wandering tone to amplify Swanson’s disinterest in the world, which ends up almost predictable in its nothingness. The feature tries so hard to come off disengaged and broken, it loses hold on the lead character’s sour headspace, failing to inspect the man’s pathological need to disengage from the world around him in any meaningful way. Elements of sarcasm and seclusion are pronounced but labored. Most of “The Comedy” is devoted to long passages of Swanson stewing in his own juices, while group scenes are leaden with empty rounds of riffing. He’s a character habitually toying with the world around him, yet these behavioral elements solidify quickly, leaving Alverson to indulgently belabor moments to a point of slumber.

A few sequences manage to embrace Swanson’s true disease, watching him assume faux managerial roles with a landscaping company and a neighborhood business as a way to test his social skills and the gregariousness of others. A few climatic moments of medical emergency and childhood photo slide-show vulnerability also register as purposeful and engaging, isolating Swanson and the gang’s psychological sludge when confronted with honest moments of feeling. A significant processing of these emotional voids is lost to tiresome art-house posturing, generating a meandering picture that only provides intermittent enlightenment before its dragged back to a tiresome place of self-conscious cinematic suffering.

Starring: Tim Heidecker, Neil Hamburger, Eric Wareheim
Director: Rick Alverson

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