Director: Rick Alverson
Run Time: 104 Mins.
Festival Section: After Dark
When Rick Alverson’s The Comedy was released in 2012, few people seemed to find either humor or a message in the film where Tim Heidecker played an entitled, racist Brooklyn trust-fund hipster. In that film, Alverson and Heidecker captured a profoundly timely ennui told through a dark, surrealist tone and protagonist. Besides having the same director, Entertainment is similar to The Comedy for its absurdist, dream-like portrait of a specific mode of living, and is able to paint its characters both as thematic vessels and vulnerable people caught in a cat and mouse game for fame, or at the very least, acceptance.
Entertainment – co-written among Tim Heidecker, Rick Alverson and the star of the film, Greg Turkington (playing heavily off his Neil Hamburger character) – is about an aging, out of touch comedian at the tail end of a career that probably didn’t have many high points to start. It is an ambitious account of the ways in which we are expenditures for our labor, whether we are oil rig workers (a recurring visual motif of the film), or we are struggling “low-level” comedians slogging through the deserts of the American southwest. The visual style of the film is a bright, all-encompassing assemblage of browns and yellows, colors often not at the forefront of a film’s color palette.
Alverson’s artistic vision is interested in “repulsion and discomfort,” as well as deconstructing culturally accepted industries, specifically with this film, entertainment itself, and the ideals the entertainment industry sells the world, which have become normalized over time.
While addressing an idea of psychosis in his protagonists, Rick Alverson, in the film’s press materials states: “…our ridiculous contention with perfection in this country — what we’ve exported for a century in our media — is the root cause of our problems, whether political or psychological because it doesn’t take into account any limitations, whether of the land or psychologically. Movies for me are all about this.”
Turkington’s character is not just struggling financially, he is struggling in most every way imaginable. He leaves lonely voicemails from nondescript motel rooms for his estranged daughter and dodges drinks from hecklers who “can’t just shut up and put a smile on their face.” He sees his profession as a noble endeavor to bring laughs to the local community, or at least that’s what he tells himself to keep himself going. And when John C. Reilly’s character asks Turkington where his comedy is leading and how it is “scalable,” it’s a statement sure to ring all too true for many working artists. The desert roads depicted beautifully in the film aren’t so much leading anywhere as they are emotional voids for the characters, no matter how much television and entertainment they consume just to fall asleep at night.
Entertainment will be in theaters, on demand and on iTunes Nov. 13.