Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Comedy (2012): The Absurdism of Irony

The Comedy (2012)
dir: Rick Alverson

At the center of The Comedy is a Williamsburg trust fund hipster who has no reason to be productive, and so his boredom with life is documented for examination. Directed and co-written by Rick Alverson, The Comedy takes a sharp incisive look at the emptiness of ironic provocation without purpose.

Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is a middle-aged rich white guy whose brother is in a psych ward and his father is on life support. His mother is presumably out of the picture. He doesn't need a job because his father made a fortune, and he lives either at home or on a boat, which he has anchored in the middle of the water. He passes his time by either hanging out with his friends trying to out-offend each other, or by placing himself in situations of people less fortunate than he in an ironic attempt to try experiencing something other than soulless boredom.

Swanson is an asshole, but only because he has nothing better to do. He isn't trying to better the world when he flirts with a girl at a party by telling her that Hitler had some really good ideas outside of that whole murdering thing. And, he's not trying to be anything but an empty provocateur when he pays a cab driver to let him drive the cab for 20 minutes, during which he provokes a woman by calling her a hooker, then running away leaving everybody else to clean up his mess.

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are actually subversive choices to act in The Comedy, since they're the creators of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, a surrealistic sketch show that deals heavily in irony and sarcasm. If you're annoyed or disgusted by the show, that's the joke. Alverson is exploring how that sense of humor can destroy your own sense of self.

Rick Alverson's look at the life is filmed and paced like an Albert Camus novel. His basic philosophy is that putting up a wall of self-defensive irony will not protect your soul, and instead destroy your ability to connect with the world except on the most superficial of levels. Swanson, has one or two moments where he is actually being vulnerable but quickly realizes what he did and puts up shields. When he is talking with his sister-in-law, he asks about his brother, genuinely. Before that, he was ranting off faux-offensively to put her on edge, and she asks if he's genuinely asking the question, to which he retreats and asks about conjugal visits in the padded cell. The irony being Swanson is that he's actually going through some hardcore crap in his life that he's basically trying very hard not to feel about, and thus he's trying to make everybody else feel like he does.

But, Swanson isn't the only participant in this charade. Eric Wareheim as Van Arman, one of Swanson's "friends," participates in the same faux-offensive behavior, but does it without the self-aware emotional shielding that pervades Swanson's story. Arman reinforces the acceptability of Swanson's detachment, and doesn't challenge the status quo. When a different cab driver doesn't have a working radio, Arman starts singing "You're gonna get a-no-no tip" while Swanson and another friend for the remainder of the ride, while the poor cab driver finishes his job.

What The Comedy and Rick Alverson does well is depict the non-upper class and capture their loathing of this group of entitled white hipsters. Both cab drivers, the probably illegal landscapers, the Catholics, the nurses at a hospital, the black guys at a bar in the ghetto during an act of "slumming," the in home nurse who cares for his dad - all of them are harassed or provoked by Swanson, but realize they would probably get shafted if they didn't give in to the rich guy who can pay to do what he wants.  These instances of class division reminded me of Cheap Thrills, where a rich guy pays poor guys to entertain him through dares and humiliation. But, Swanson isn't charismatic. And, Swanson's humiliation isn't with joy or friendliness.

While The Comedy does a great job of creating a case of soullessness for Swanson as the Williamsburg hipster, it introduces reinforcing friends without giving them reason to be so jaded with the world. This is The Comedy's main fault. It closely examines the behavior of a full culture, but it only focuses on one case and gives him easy excuses. Which, adds to the great absurdism of its philosophy. We're looking for meaning in things, but can't find it in the places we're looking.

Is The Comedy an easy movie? No. But, it's not a hipster provocation either. Or, maybe it is? One could easily be forgiven for thinking the whole movie is actually being ironic in its intended purposes and is as empty as the characters it depicts. It's only fair for a movie about people dealing in emptiness for one to come back from The Comedy thinking it's actually empty.

But, the way I watched, and maybe I'm not in on the joke, it's about the emptiness of the lifestyle. The Comedy is a plea for humanity to let down its shields and actually feel what life hands them.

No comments:

Post a Comment