The Comedy | Movie review
Adult Swim dadaist Tim Heidecker amps up the discomfort in a new provocation.
Met with walkouts and scathing reviews when it premiered at Sundance in January, Rick Alverson’s The Comedy feels like a new benchmark in Tim Heidecker’s ongoing campaign of audience antagonism. A more appropriate title might have been The Anti-Comedy, considering the extent to which the actor—one half of Adult Swim’s dadaist duo Tim & Eric—doubles down on his trademark alienation techniques. Filtering out all hints of innocuous impishness, Heidecker plays thirtysomething Swanson, whose primary mode of communication is a relentless barrage of “ironic” offensiveness. Basically plotless, the film tags along with this slacker asshole on daily provocation pilgrimages, watching dispassionately as he harasses strangers, horses around with fellow dipshits (among them partner-in-crime Eric Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy) and picks up a girl at a party by empathizing with Hitler, Lars von Trier–style.
Given the nonstop gabbing and the appearance of DIY-cinema starlet Kate Lyn Sheil, it’s possible to read The Comedy as a very dry spoof of the white-guy-ennui indies flowing out of South by Southwest every year. An even better comparison might be Punch Drunk Love; whereas Paul Thomas Anderson revealed melancholic new dimensions to Adam Sandler’s man-child routine, Alverson pinpoints something sad and desperate in Heidecker’s mock sincerity—a mask of shock-comic irreverence that shields its wearer from all emotional connection. Of course, ascribing such seriousness to the film is, potentially, to stumble right into its trap. Even Tim and Eric fanatics may walk away from The Comedy wondering if it’s an Andy Kaufman–esque prank or a critique of the same. Perhaps the filmmakers aren’t sure, either. (Available now on VOD; see tribecafilm.com for details.)