Directed by: Rick Alverson.
Written by: Rick Alverson and Robert Donne and Colm O'Leary.
Starring: Tim Heidecker (Swanson), Eric Wareheim (Van Arman), James Murphy (Ben), Gregg Turkington (Bobby), Kate Lyn Sheil (Waitress), Alexia Rasmussen (Young woman), Jeffrey Jensen (Cargill), Liza Kate (Sister in Law), Seth Koen (Male nurse), Rock Kohli (Raj).
Swanson is pretty much a protypical hipster. He drifts through his life with no purpose, sees everything ironically, takes nothing seriously, and pretty much makes fun of everyone around him who are foolish enough to have things like beliefs or jobs. He doesn’t have to work – his father is rich, and Swanson is just killing time until the old man finally kicks the bucket, and all the money is his own. Swanson takes no pleasure in anything he does. He is a hollow, empty character.
When we first meet him, he is doing what he’ll do repeatedly throughout the movie – cruelly fuck with another person. The person this time is his father’s male nurse, who he mocks for having a girl’s job, questions his sexuality, and subjects him to an endless series of questions about a distended anus. Swanson clearly thinks he’s better than the nurse – just like later he thinks he’s better than the gardener he mocks, the wealthy couple who employs the gardener, the cab driver he subjects to a racist rant and the group of black men he subjects to an even more racist rant. But he’s not a racist – he’s just an ironic racist, making racist jokes not because he believes them but because, well, I have no idea. His only two hobbies other than mocking other is to seduce gullible young women and get them back to his house boat. He does this is pretty much the same way – by saying hugely inappropriate things (“I’m not saying I agree with Hitler, but…”). His other hobby is to hang out with his equally obnoxious hipster friends – all sporting the same silly beards, sunglasses, shorts and flip flops – ironically, of course.
If The Comedy was a more honest movie, it could have been a great one. But it seems to want to have it’s cake and eat it to, and that dooms the film to the miserable failure that it is. This is a movie made for hipsters, by hipsters that criticizes hipsters. If Swanson’s main sin is being so ironically detached for life, what does it say about the filmmakers who have, of course, ironically named their film The Comedy, when the film is anything but funny.
Swanson is a deviant little psychopath, unable to feel empathy with anyone around him, and unable to bring himself to care. One of his hookups has a horrific end that isn’t about what he does, but rather what he doesn’t do – which is pretty much anything. No matter what is happening around him, Swanson cannot bring himself to give a shit. Perhaps the point of not giving any of the female characters in the movie a name – they are even identified in the credits as Young Woman, Waitress, Sister-in-Law – is that Swanson doesn’t care enough about them to even learn their names, but it still comes off as rather crass and sexist. But where the movie truly lost me is in the late going, when all of a sudden, it starts to ask the audience to feel sorry for Swanson – that deep down, he really is a person too, with real feelings, that he is simply masking with his ironic detachment. What a crock of shit.
The movie has other problems as well. The film makes it’s point about Swanson’s detachment in the first scene, and then proceeds to bludgeon us to the death for more than an hour with the same point again and again and again. We get it. But one thing in the movie that works, strangely enough, is Tim Heidecker’s performance as Swanson. He is actually perfect as this obnoxious asshole. I’m not a fan of Heidecker’s previous work – earlier this year, he and his partner in crime Eric Wareheim (who appears here as one of his friends) made Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (an extension of their TV show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) and it is the only movie from 2012 that I turned off part way through. After about a half an hour of their brand of no-comedy comedy, I was so annoyed I wanted to put my fist through the TV screen, so decided to just turn it off instead. But in The Comedy, Heidecker proves he can actually act if he wants to. What he needs next time is a real movie – not this horrible, empty, dishonest, ironically detached movie that tries so hard to make you think Swanson is an asshole, and then tries to convince you he has feelings to. This is one of the year’s worst films.