Review: ‘The Comedy’ Is 90 Minutes of Pain

By  · Published on November 9th, 2012

Editor’s note: Thinking about seeing The Comedy this weekend? Perhaps you should read our Sundance review, first published on January 25, 2012, first…

As George Bush once bastardized, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee ‐ I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee ‐ that says, fool me once, shame on ‐ [pauses] ‐ shame on you. Fool me ‐ [pauses] ‐ You can’t get fooled again.” Although I have the feeling that the filmmakers behind The Comedy probably enjoy P.T. Barnum’s statement a lot more, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” By filling theaters full of willing film festival audiences at Sundance 2012, they’ve put together groups of suckers, just waiting to be taken in. Just heed our warning and don’t take the bait.

Does that sound drastic? It might, but I hope that a moment of drastic reading for you can spare you from 90 minutes of pain where the only Comedy is the feeling that the filmmakers are laughing at you behind your back. No doubt they would do the same thing upon reading this review. To quote even more (I’m going for a quota of three quotes in this piece, and here’s the last one), let’s remember what Mark Twain said in Huckleberry Finn, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

While I’m not hoping that a bullet finds me for muddling through this movie and writing a review, it might have been sweet relief about halfway through watching it if I had been prosecuted.

The Comedy opens with a scene featuring spoiled hipster Swanson (Tim Heidecker) dancing around in slow motion with his male friends in their underwear, while they spew beer all over each other, tuck their penises between their legs, and clown around like buffoons. Like any modern moviegoer, you’ll think to yourself “Oh, this will be explained somewhere in this film.” And it is. But the explanation will have your brain’s last caring cell dying as you come to this realization.

From there we jump to the massive home of Swanson’s father, who lies comatose and dying in a bed while tended to by a male nurse. Swanson, wearing flip flops, shorts, and loudly munching on an assortment of cookies and drinking whiskey, watches from a nearby chair. He verbally abuses the nurse, subtly, about his job, asking him if he’s ever had his father’s shit under his fingernails, and if he’s trained how to handle a prolapsed rectum. That’s your introduction to Swanson.

From there, you watch as he idly drifts through life, hanging out with his equally dissociative friends (one of whom is portrayed by comic partner Eric Wareheim) who float through life drinking and performing esoteric comedy for each other. He also attempts to connect with “normal life,” from the perspective of someone who has grown up wealthy and privileged, by applying for mundane jobs on an impulse. He tries to get hired at a bar in a distinctly black part of town, offers a cabbie $400 to let him drive his taxi for 20 minutes, and eventually gets hired as a dishwasher at a small restaurant.

He also connects with people in an entirely detached manner, and when he finds a verbal sparring partner on his level of wit and rapport working at the restaurant (he asks her if they can use her vaginal yeast to bake bread, and she says she was directed to ask about his dick cheese), it seems like he’s made a tenuous connection. By after inviting her out to the boat he lives on, he sits idly drinking whiskey while she has a full-on seizure right when they begin fooling around. He then drops her back off at the pier and continues his meandering walk through life.

That’s about the size of things. There are moments where you begin to think that something more will happen, as when Swanson interacts with his sister-in-law or when he meets the waitress, but nothing changes and things continue as they were before. You can almost see the cracks in the shell that Swanson wears as he stumbles into a patient’s hospital room and combs his hair, but that’s as close as you get to anything deeper.

Sundance festival director John Cooper told CNN, “This is not a comedy. It’s dry and ironic, even from the title.” While chief programmer Trevor Groth added, “It’s a provocation, a critique of a culture based at its core around irony and sarcasm and about ultimately how hollow that is.” That’s not a statement I would agree with, and after sitting through this, I feel the Comedy is the fact that this film was accepted into Sundance, and that the filmmakers are laughing behind our backs. That’s the realization you come to while searching for any sort of deeper meaning.

The Upside: This is the first time I’ve seen an indication that Tim Heidecker is actually a fantastic actor. He’s able to deadpan his way through most of this movie, but there are moments where you can read a small semblance of emotion on his face. It’s not easy to pull off and he does it well. It would be fantastic to see what he could do with a proper script.

The Downside: The entire movie feels like an inside joke, one that the audience is the butt of. There is a lot of wasted potential, and a good story somewhere underneath all of this.

On the Side: This is the first movie to be released by Capcom Pictures, the motion picture arm of the video game company that brought you games like Street Fighter, Mega Man, and Resident Evil. Not sure if we’ll see The Comedy: The Game anytime soon.