The thing about The Comedy (2012) is that it is both for, and making fun of, a particular generation. It’s about absolute boredom and aimlessness and entitlement, taking all of those for granted, and then weaponizing them in movie form to throw it back in your face. The movie is itself a joke on you, with stretches of pulling on a woman’s eyebrow while she sleeps, naked play fighting with copious amounts of spit arcing across the air, conversations about homeless people’s appendages and their cleanliness, using the acoustics of a church to their full effect, trying to kiss one’s sister-in-law… and those are the non-spoiler ones. It’s an assault on decency, in a manner of speaking, trying to find that button to push while telling a story about someone desperate to find some awakening in himself.

Tim Heidecker has proven himself to be a fantastic actor in Tim and Eric sketches, and my personal favorite, a commitment to a multi-year parody on film criticism (which also spawned a fascinating four-hour mock murder trial), On Cinema at the Cinema. Here, he is deadpan, eyes almost vacant and disinterested as things unfold around him. He pushes things as far as he can, trying to find something that gets a rise out of not only the other person but also himself, and looks to get bored even when he gets the desired result. Nothing compels him in a world surrounded by compelling things. Swanson, Heidecker’s character, is completely indifferent to even his father dying, making jokes to his nurse about prolapsed anuses as his father lies unconscious.

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Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, and James Murphy in The Comedy.

The constant need to feel something becomes more elaborate and nearly self-destructive during the third act, reaching levels of uncomfortableness as you are left wondering what Swanson may do next. There is this push to go beyond what he has done before that leaves the possibility of serious harm or damage to his life just around the corner. Or perhaps it’s all just a game.

Director Rick Alverson has created something that feels almost spontaneous, like he catches these incidents within his camera’s lens, happening upon them in quick captures. It feels like a combination of scripted and unscripted work, blurring the lines along the way.

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Tim Heidecker in The Comedy

There is an air of sadness to the film, within each increasing action. Then there are other times where the movie juxtaposes melancholy and joy, like during a baseball game and a bike ride with friends while William Basinski’s “The Disintegration Loops” plays. Joy can certainly be felt in those few, rare instances, but it appears brief and fleeting.

The Comedy is not a comedy, not in the traditional sense; it is and it isn’t. It will be a drama with incredibly funny bits for some, and a complete nightmare for others. Where that divide comes depends entirely on your taste. I found myself both invested in the drama and enjoying the comedy, as ironic and baffling as some of it was. Its character study is commenting on a specific type of person and his life, while broadly talking about a generation that feels more lost and out of touch than the ones that came before.

★★

Written by Kevin Lever

TV Critic for FilmEra. Extremely Canadian.

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