The Comedy is a deeply unpleasant movie about a deeply unpleasant person... but is its unpleasantness a feature or a bug? It's ugly, mean-spirited and sloppy, but the protagonist is the exact same way, so it could be argued that film is deliberately mimicking him for artistic effect. It does its best to drive the viewer away, but its protagonist does the exact same thing. Is it capturing something worth examining? You get the sense that the film wants you to find something of substance beneath the surface, but you also sense that it might be laughing at you for trying. When it was over, my wife turned to me and sighed: “Don't you feel like you just wasted a chunk of your life watching that?”
“Well, it's definitely a movie about someone wasting a chunk of their life,” I replied. Still, a part of me suspected that she was right.
Swanson (Tim Heidecker, Bridesmaids) is a 35-year-old Brooklyn resident living very comfortably thanks to his ailing father's wealth (which he may or may not inherit soon). He has no life to speak of – no job, no hobbies, no serious relationships, no interest in anything. When he strikes up a conversation with someone, his thoughts quickly turn to the most appalling subject matter his limited mind can conjure: offering gross descriptions of genitalia and a variety of bodily fluids seems to be his favorite pastime. Sometimes he'll hang out with a few like-minded pals (a group that includes Heidecker's frequent collaborator Eric Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem founder James Murphy), and they'll all do nothing of interest together.
There's nothing particularly funny in The Comedy, though it's clear that Swanson thinks of himself as a comedian. He seems to find some pleasure in saying shocking things to everyone he encounters, but he doesn't even bother to construct jokes or create an amusing context for those things. He'll just start hurling crass, clumsy insults until the other party either shouts at him or leaves (they usually take the latter option). Swanson is so numb inside that he has to create deeply uncomfortable situations just to feel something.
Swanson is rich, and as such, he never really has to worry about the sort of day-to-day problems many people his age are forced to concern themselves with. He gets a job at a restaurant - not because he needs one, but because it gives him something to do. He's rich enough to have whatever he wants, and he's grown immune to the simple pleasures of life as a result. He beds attractive young women with almost no effort, he lounges on his father's yacht, he drinks heavily, he gazes at porn, he creates racial conflicts with assorted locals, he does goofy impressions and he doesn't seem to get any genuine enjoyment from any of these things. Life has become a bland, empty, irritating thing, so Swanson (usually metaphorically, but sometimes physically) wounds himself and others in the hope that it'll eventually become interesting. It never does. His numbness has killed his empathy, too: when one of his dates suffers a seizure, Swanson observes with the bored disinterest of a man staring at his watch.
As a character study – and that's really all it is – The Comedy is honest and quietly revealing. Heidecker's performance is a fairly bold piece of work, as he never begs for the viewer's sympathy or attempts to soften his character's rough edges. Tim & Eric fans won't be surprised when I say that Heidecker seems game for just about anything, as evidenced by the opening scene which offers images of a drunken, naked Swanson aimlessly humping his friends at a sad house party. He commits to this garish portrait and never flinches.
As a viewing experience, The Comedy is tedious. That's partially because the movie is so (deliberately) shapeless, but mostly because Swanson is such a monotonously irritating figure. His abusive shtick gets old well before the film reaches the finish line, and by the end we're watching him with the sort of exhausted disinterest that he shows in everything else. Maybe that's the effect the filmmakers were going for. This is an honest film, and I appreciate that, but I don't think honesty is quite enough. Sure, okay, you're right, good point, smart observation, but ugh, just shut up.
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Year: 2012