[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage for this year’s South by Southwest Film 2012. It has been re-posted to coincide with the film’s wider release.]
Hipster is a word that means nothing when said without resentment. We attach this ill-defined slur to anyone who tries hard to seem like they aren’t trying hard. It’s a state-of-mind many adopt because it’s the only way they can make sense of the world. Those with the time and money like to think the world is a joke, and they are the only ones in on it. It’s better to not care than to actually try to be something real.
The Comedy is a character study of a tragically funny individual trying to make sense of the detached society that surrounds him. He’s a total dick but one that is hard not to love.
Director: Rick Alverson
Release Date: November 9, 2012 (Los Angeles, additional limited engagements through November)
The Comedy opens with privileged Williamsburg resident Swanson (Tim & Eric‘s Tim Heidecker) partying with his friends. More specifically, trying to pour beer down each others’ underwear as a slow-jam plays in the background. It’s the kind of foolish jackass antic that keeps Swanson and his friends entertained throughout the day. Beer, jokes, and pointless activities seem to be the only constants in his life.
When Swanson isn’t engaging with his friends — ironically celebrating the chemistry of their friendship and clean bathrooms — he is making the world his stage for his own brand of dark comedy. In one early scene, he pretends to be a gardener on a rich estate. He walks around with his beer gut out and tells the owners that he has been letting the other gardeners swim in their pool. After getting no reaction from the owners, he walks away bored and disappointed. He isn’t performing for laughs. It is resentment he craves.
Swanson would be a very likable person if he weren’t such a cold, detached asshole. His boldness and comedic instincts are admirable, but he treats everyone around him like shit. He ridicules the nurse who changes his father’s bedpan, unaffectedly watches others’ misery, and finds new ways to desecrate a church. He is a wonderful conversationalist and Heidecker is a very exciting actor to watch. Whether he is talking about Hitler as a role model or hobo dicks, Swanson is a character that gives us enough reasons to stick around and watch his foolish antics play out.
The Comedy doesn’t make any grand messages about its character. It just presents a collection of moments in his life that let us discover who he is and what he represents. The film is very much an attack on the mythological hipster. Pabst Blue Ribbon, fixed-gear bikes, and ironically self-aware humor. We know this guy and it’s a testament to The Comedy that we like him at all. By the end of the film, I even felt a bit sorry for him. Even with all his money, friends, and natural talents, he can’t make sense of the world around him. He wants so badly to connect to something that feels real, but he can’t help but push it away through his ironic humor and bitterness.
The Comedy may be a challenging film, but it’s one of the few character studies that has a clear focus and entertaining hook that will keep you invested. Heidecker was the perfect actor for this project. When he looks past his surroundings, you believe him. Sometimes making a joke is all you can do in a bad situation. For Swanson, life in its entirety is a bad situation.
If you ever shouted, “DIE! HIPSTER SCUM! DIE!” This is a film for you and, maybe, even about you.