I've never set foot in Vancouver, but I did see The Comedy at BAMcinemaFest back in June. That's right, I saw it before it was cool. And since there's no full review of the film in the ScreenAnarchy archive, it has fallen to me to remedy the situation. Because even though the film itself is wrong, wrong, wrong; ye gods, it just feels so right.
But I'm guessing most people won't share that opinion.
Let me get this out of the way right up front: I hate hipsters. Who doesn't? I mean, even hipsters hate hipsters, they just don't know or won't admit they are hipsters. And if you're only pretending to be a hipster out of irony, guess what? You're a fucking hipster.
In fact, a large portion of the crowd attending the sold out screening at BAM (which is in the hipster Mecca of Brooklyn, for those of you who didn't know) were hipsters. And they were yucking it up with the rest of us, as if the film wasn't about them. As some of the foremost purveyors of affected irony, they must see the irony in that. Or maybe the irony stems from the fact that they don't see it. Whoa...
Regardless, unlikeable characters have never prevented me from liking a good film. And I like this film a lot.
The Comedy tells the "story" of Swanson, an aging hipster douche played with unnerving commitment by comedian Tim Heidecker. I put the term "story" in quotes because there is none; it's more of a merciless series of scenes involving Swanson and his friends being total dicks. It's performance art. A provocation. An endurance test.
But it's also incredibly funny. Hysterical, even. And every so often, while you're laughing your breech off, you are sucker-punched with a moment so uncomfortable, so inappropriate, it's like running into a brick wall of shame. If you find the comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ricky Gervais too nice, then this is the film for you. Most everyone else should give it a wide berth. It presents the bleakest possible portrait of the privileged white male and the malaise that comes with unlimited freedom. If you think the girls of Girls are annoying and unrelatable, these characters will seem completely alien by comparison. They are not deserving of your sympathy.
There is nothing to belie Swanson's one-dimensional facade, if it even is a facade. There's no hint at humanity. Is he a damaged man-child, acting out in an effort to make an emotional connection? Or is he a full-on sociopath? It would be nice to think that there is something there to repair, a person there to save. But this isn't a nice film. It's a nihilistic transgression that bleeds black. An exercise in Fuck You. Anything less would be insincere, and render the film hollow. You rob this dog of its bite and it's just loud and pathetic. It's not a threat anymore.
Fans of Heidecker's work on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! should thrill to seeing his avant-comedy taken to such extremes (and yes, that is co-star Eric Wareheim playing one of his jerk friends). Whether you find his schtick palatable in chunks longer than 15 minutes or not will separate the man-child from the masochist. But don't write the film off if you don't have the stomach for it. The hipster threat is very real. And this study in disaffected entitlement will ensure that you know thy enemy. And knowing is half the battle.
The Comedy screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival October 7th and 9th. It is scheduled to be released theatrically and On Demand in the US by Tribeca Film in fall 2012.