THERE'S AN UNNERVING stillness to director Rick Alverson's work. It's a quality akin to David Lynch's most dreamlike films, where even the most mundane scenes have an air of creeping dread. To Alverson's credit, he manages to instill that feeling in the most innocuous of stories. With 2012's The Comedy, he built a weird, horror movie-like tension as he followed a slovenly, egotistical rich kid (Tim Heidecker) meandering around Brooklyn with his hipster buddies.
In Alverson's Entertainment, that same discomfort lingers in the otherwise humdrum day-to-day existence of a struggling, visibly haunted stand-up (played by Gregg Turkington). We follow along as Turkington's nameless comedian plies his trade at night, then spends his days baking in the Southern sun as he goes on guided tours or spends time with his strange cousin (John C. Reilly). Punctuating his days are phone calls to his estranged daughter—calls that go unanswered, and calls that grow more desperate.
What adds to the unease is that Turkington's stage persona in the film is a version of Neil Hamburger, the phlegmatic and phlegmy nightclub comic character that Turkington has been distressing and delighting audiences with since the '90s. In real life, Hamburger comes across as confrontational—but onscreen, his punchy material, which makes hay of movie stars and rockers ("how many Red Hot Chili Peppers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Well, that depends on how recently they shot up.") only upsets and annoys the patrons, sending him deeper into his malaise.
Entertainment doesn't ask you to relate to this character, or even empathize with his plight. All Alverson wants is for you to wallow in this world for a little while—and feel every awkward silence, every unpleasant conversation, and every desperate moment as deeply as he does.