Misanthropic, self-loathing (and loathsome), aging Brooklyn hipster Swanson (Tim Heidecker, star of Rick Alverson’s new film, “The Comedy”), spends his time drinking, waiting for his comatose wealthy father to die, sitting (and screwing) on his sailboat, and hanging out with his three best boys. Both solo and with his buds, Swanson tests the limits of acceptable public behavior and conversation, coming down hard on the wrong side of the line separating appropriate from ugly.
I’ve wanted to see “The Comedy” since I missed its premiere at this year’s BAMCinemaFest. Gabriele compares the film and its abrasive lead character to one of my favorite films, Mike Leigh’s “Naked,” with the then little-known David Thewlis, remarkable as the brilliant, frenetic, horrifying Johnny. And the Alverson film has also been compared to another one of my favorite cinematic punches in the gut, an early great film by Lars von Trier, “The Idiots.”
But unlike in “The Idiots,” in which non-mentally challenged people play at being mentally handicapped to be able act out, flauting societal norms, there’s less daylight between Swanson and his transgressions. He’s performing a version of himself: provocative, grossly entitled, condescending (particularly to women and minorities), arrogant, brutal, shocking, stupid, flabby and pink. And it’s riveting, beyond the visual and emotional pull of disaster.
Heidecker, well-known as a comedian (I had an assignment to photograph him prior to the release of “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” but illness prevented him from coming to New York then), speaking here with a flat affect, reveals nothing of his goofy, affable persona in “The Comedy.” But there is just a bit of lightness–as the film concludes, Swanson swims in the sea and engaging a little boy, has “a moment of true feeling.”
“The Comedy,” currently playing in Los Angeles, will open at BAMcinématek on Friday, November 16, with expansion to follow. Rick Alverson and Tim Heidecker will be in attendance at BAM for Q&As at 6:50 pm and intros at 9:30 pm on Friday and Saturday.