Tim Heidecker and Rick Alverson on 'The Comedy'
By Kaliska Ross
It’s Thursday night and Theater #2 at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar is filled to the brim with eager moviegoers and a palpable excitement over the special guest, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, arriving at any moment, for the sneak peak of Rick Alverson’s latest film. While we waited for the lights to dim and the film to begin, clips of Tim and Eric were playing in the theater to set the mood. After a bit, the director Rick Alverson took the stage to briefly introduce his film, The Comedy.
The Comedy is about Swanson, played by Heidecker, a 30-something well-to-do Williamsburg hipster, and his group of friends, grappling with their privileged lives and ultimately trying to make meaning where seemingly none exists. Rick describes the main character as having a creative desire to reclaim language from banality. While a positive goal, Swanson’s methods -- berating those around him and completely ignoring political correctness -- often leave the more open-minded audience member feeling uncomfortable and the easily offended patron possibly even angry.
Heidecker and Alverson expressed how fascinating it has been for them to take their movie around the world and witness the variety of reactions to it. They chalked up the disparities in reception to a generational gap between those under 40 and those over 40.
The film has received mixed reviews so far in the festival circuit, but that may be due in part to preconceived ideas about what a movie featuring Tim Heidecker named The Comedy would entail. Tim mentioned in the Q&A that he didn’t want his status as a comedian and his usually humorous characters to take away from the artistic message of the film. He and Rick made a conscious effort to stay away from his typical silliness.
Full appreciation of The Comedy comes from an active participation in the discussion it generates. The audience at the screening I attended was lucky enough to have the director and lead actor there to moderate this discussion and shed light on their creative vision. The choices made in the film are extremely intentional and all work together to create a detailed, though indefinite, look into a character's life. From the extreme close-ups to the extended periods of relative silence to Swanson’s absurd reactions to those around him, this film is very purposeful in its vagueness and uneasiness. The audience begins to feel just as trapped in their mundane upper-class ennui as are the characters in the film; a risky choice, as the characters are not relatable or sympathetic.
As Tim noted in the discussion, none of the characters laugh at each other's jokes or even their own. They are tired of themselves and what they perceive to be a worn-out language in an exhausted culture. This search for sincerity is at the heart of many discussions today where we seek purpose and fulfillment in our post-modern lives where little is still sacred. I appreciate that The Comedy takes on the complex task of addressing this issue and the Q&A helped to clarify the ambiguities presented in the story.
In addition to shedding some light on the key choices made by the director, the Q&A was seriously funny. Tim interacted humorously with the audience in a tone of mock condescension. Yet when he wasn’t playing the role of jerk, it was clear that he is a genuinely nice guy. Someone asked a question about his obviously larger body size for the movie, which got a strong reaction from him. He apparently gets a question about his gut every time they screen the film and he’s tired of it. Be warned. If you comment on his appearance in this film you run the risk of being publicly shamed by Tim Heidecker. No joke. He made the man asking the question step to the front of the theater so he could point out all the faults he found in his appearance. It wasn't mean-spirited though and everyone got a kick out of it. And Tim did eventually answer the question, but only after his tirade of insults.
If you like moody, invasive, yet funny films that leave you with more questions than answers, The Comedy will suit your fancy. I enjoyed it, and I feel like the overall reaction in the audience was positive. The film might not be what you expect, but it will provoke you to think and to discuss. Accepting and moving past the irony of its title allows the intended purpose to come through and is a good framework to have when watching this film.
The Comedy is available for streaming on Amazon.com now.
Kaliska Ross is an intern at the Austin Film Society.