IF YOU'RE LAUGHING at The Comedy, the new film from writer/director Rick Alverson, there might be something wrong with you. There's definitely something wrong with lead character Swanson, played by Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Alverson's film turns the brutal awkwardness of those Tim and Eric sketches into something unremittingly black, painful, and decidedly unfunny. Interested in the point where disconnected hipster irony turns into outright nihilism? The Comedy is for you!
Swanson is a poor little rich kid living on a sailboat somewhere in New York Harbor; his father lies dying in hospice, and Swanson spends most of his time doing literally nothing. He verbally fucks with almost everyone he meets, somehow getting laid from time to time; his truest passion is in regularly getting blackout drunk with his equally lazy friends, played by an interesting combination of comedians and musicians—Eric Wareheim (Eric of Tim and Eric), James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), Jeff Jensen (Earles & Jensen), Gregg Turkington (Neil Hamburger), Will Sheff (Okkervil River), and Oregon record producer extraordinaire Richard Swift.
There are almost no actual conversations in The Comedy. Swanson spends most of the time talking at people, saying inexplicably horrible things; they dumbly stand there, too shocked to respond. Alverson shoots most of the scenes in intimate close-ups, which further accentuates the sense of isolation; characters rarely share a frame.
If this all sounds unbearable, it sort of is—but The Comedy is shot in sun-dappled, almost nostalgic hues, giving its fly-on-the-wall, improvised quality a sense of reality, despite the film's almost complete lack of recognizable human behavior. The soundtrack is incongruously beautiful. And Heidecker doesn't want you to notice it, but he's a hell of an actor, giving every gesture a deathly sense of fatigue. There's one scene where his behavior is so appallingly detached, I gasped out loud. It's no laughing matter, but The Comedy is worthwhile.