“The Comedy” – First impressions of Tim Heidecker’s controversial Sundance film


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By Jordan Hoffman

There are some characters you love to hate. Like, you know, Severus Snape or Bill O’Reilly. But what about characters that you loathe – how can you spend an entire movie with them? That’s the question behind “The Comedy”, the new experiment in darkness starring Tim Heidecker that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The answer is: it ain’t easy.

Receiving more walkouts than anything else I’ve seen at the fest, those of us who stuck it out collected in the lobby to, first, pat ourselves on the back and, second, collectively agree that while “The Comedy” is one hell of a challenging film that may ultimately be bullshit, it deserves tremendous respect for its clarity of vision.

“The Comedy” opens with slow motion shots of half-naked, none-too-in-shape thirty somethings drunk off their ass and wrestling/dancing/”tucking in” to a a slow R&B tune. These few minutes alone would work as installation art in some of the more rarified galleries.

We’re then introduced to our lead (Heidecker) drinking whiskey and watching a male nurse comfort his ailing, wealthy father. He unleashes a tidal wave of bile, ruthlessly cutting into this young caretaker, going way beyond funny barbs into horrible cruelty. It is one of a number of viscous rants we’ll get from Heidecker as he makes his way being a dick around the hipster areas of Brooklyn.

He’s a man in pain. We get it. And if you have a heart, you want to sympathize with him. But how far can you be pushed? This is the central question behind “The Comedy”, but there’s also something very interesting and now going on right here. Tim Heidecker and his cronies are the titans of underground, experimental comedy right now. They’re “always on” and they’re always pushing boundaries. Is it a barrel of laughs to be with them? No it is horrible.

They drink, slack, put one another down, one-up one another with gross-out jokes and, when feeling really energetic, get out of the house to harass taxi drivers or act disruptively in a church. I don’t even know if this is even anti-humor, it’s just sociopathic behavior. It’s not “Animal House,” it’s Lars von Trier’s “The Idiots,” or Dylan’s crew from “Don’t Look Back” on some dark, dark drugs.

It’s an obvious conclusion of the navel-gazing mumblecore movement, but I can’t tell if The Comedy hates mumblecore or not. Frankly, I can’t tell if The Comedy hates life or not. There’s a brief, brief moment where it looks like love may soften the story (Kate Lyn Sheil, who also appears in this Sundance’s “V/H/S,” is spectacular as Heidecker’s female counterpart) but this is quickly dismissed in one of the film’s most awkward scenes.

There’s a lot of competition for that title, frankly. The scene where Heidecker goes to a bar in an African-American community just to “get out of his comfort zone” elicited many walkouts. I was a little tempted myself.

So. . .is this movie good? It certainly has a commitment to what it wants to say. I interpret it as an examination of the destructive powers of white privilege on itself. No one of our crew works, except
for when Heidecker gets a job washing dishes, just because he probably thinks that it’s an absurdist thing to do. (Or maybe this is a desperate attempt to make some sort of connection somewhere, anywhere.)

Ultimately, the film isn’t pleasant. And it isn’t funny. Some of the set pieces are like a Tim and Eric sketch (Wareheim shows up for a few scenes) drained of all of its humor – leaving only the awkwardness. If you are a hardcore fan of this comedy movement, you should check it out. It’s like a guy from your favorite band putting out a side project album. It won’t be something you play over and over, but it is a unique opportunity to hear a variation on a tune.

Does “The Comedy” sound like something you’d like to check us? Let us know in the comments below.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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