Directed by Rick Alverson in 2012, The Comedy features Tim Heidecker as a thirty-five year old hipster/slacker type named Swanson. It opens with a scene where he and his friends are drunk and naked and spitting their drinks out of their mouths and just generally making a mess of things. It's here that viewers should realize that The Comedy is not really a comedy at all. When next we meet Swanson, he's sitting in a room with his terminally ill father. As he sips his whiskey he insults the intern dealing with more unpleasant side of home care - he insults him, noting that he's being paid to deal with his father's bowel movements and that he probably doesn't always get everything out from under his nails when he washes his hands and what if he picked something out of his teeth that day? He'd get it in his mouth. This scene sets the stage for what's to come and pretty much establishes who Swanson is right from the get go.
From here we follow Swanson through a few days of his life. He lives on a boat anchored off the shore of New York City and travels back and forth between Williamsburg and New Jersey in a dingy. He drinks a lot and gets into trouble, though he's usually the one to provoke it. Case in point? He heads out of his Williamsburg comfort zone to a tougher part of New York City and goes into a bar frequented by black men. Here he strikes up conversations with them ,makes some racial jokes, pokes fun at them - he doesn't get his ass kicked, but it's hard to tell if the men he's talking to really see the humor in the situation. Eventually he gets a minimum wage job working as a dishwasher in a restaurant. The fact that his father is dying and will be leaving him a sizeable amount of money doesn't seem to matter to him. He's more interested in getting sloshed with his friends - Bobby (Gregg Turkington, a.k.a. Neil Hamurger), Ben (James Murphy) and Van Arman (Eric Wareheim) - and harassing immigrant taxi drivers or goofing around inside a sparsely populated Roman Catholic Church. He meets a few different women but doesn't seem to connect with them much until he meets a quiet, pretty waitress (Kate Lyn Sheil) at the restaurant where he works. He mentions to her that by law he has to tell her he's a convicted sex offender, but this doesn't phase her. They hit if off but their relationship takes some strange turns when they head to his boat to smoke some weed.
And that's more or less it.
A criticism that seems to be often leveled at this film is that it's a movie about nothing, and while in a sense that's true, at the same time it's a movie about everything. We all have to grow up at some point and while some of us are keen to do so, many of us are not. We want to hang out with our friends and party and ignore the real problems that loom over us; in this case it's the impending death of Swanson's father, obviously, but there are other issues. He's a compulsive liar, he can't take anything seriously and he tends to use people for his own amusement without any concern for their feelings or how it may go on to affect them down the road. It's a safe bet that, while growing up, many of us knew a few people like this, and in fact it's a safe bet that as we get older, most of them change. But not all of them will. Swanson really just has no idea what to do with his life or how to deal with the fact that not only is his father dying but he himself is also starting to age. With no other obvious option, he (sometimes quite literally) spits back at the world around him. Sometimes this manifests as attempts at racial or sexist humor, other times it's binge drinking - but it's obvious as the movie plays out that he just can't find his way and instead wanders from one stupid situation of his own making to another.
Very much a simple 'slice of life' story that doesn't really have an ending so much as it just stops, The Comedy does feature some pretty hilarious scenes. When Wareheim's character demands hip-hop on the radio in the cab and the gang start singing an improvised song, yeah, we know the cab driver is uncomfortable and that what these guys are doing is fairly awful, but we can't help but laugh at it. The scene in the church also features some amusing physical comedy. After they're done blowing out the candles that others have lit, they each sit in a pew and move sideways in opposite directions. The way that the camera captures this is just... weird. It's hard not to laugh at it even if the entire time we're well aware that these guys are acting like jerks and are being completely disrespectful.
Heidecker is completely deadpan throughout all of this and his performance is played completely straight. He's impressive in the part. The movie is surprisingly dark, there is no redemption to be found here and there is no real closure - which makes the casting of Heidecker, best known for the ridiculous humor of Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! an odd choice, but he pulls it off. There are times where it's hard to connect with any of the characters in the movie and this hurts it a bit. Additionally there are moments where the improvisational nature of many of the scenes drags on a little too long and in fact the movie feels about ten to fifteen minutes longer than it needs to be, but overall, this is an interesting picture. It's not one that everyone will appreciate, and it is easy to understand where all those 'it has not story' criticisms come from. On the flips side of that coin, the fact that it doesn't have a traditional Hollywood narrative and the fact that it basically details the exploits of someone completely disconnected from everyone around him is precisely what makes the movie interesting in the first place.
The Comedy looks good in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen as presented on this DVD. There are a few spots where the image looks a little noisy and it looks like some color tweaking has been done here and there to stylize some of the scenes but overall, detail is good and colors are well reproduced. Black levels are solid though there is some minor crush here and there while skin tones look lifelike and accurate. There are no problems with dirt, damage or debris, as it should be for a new production like this, and though there are some minor compression artifacts evident in a few spots, overall the movie is presented in very nice shape here.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on the DVD is of very good quality. The levels are properly balanced and the dialogue is easy to understand even when things do start to get chaotic (which happens a couple of times throughout the movie). Surrounds are used well, bass response is strong without overpowering things and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. This won't compete with more aggressive sound mixes, the type you'd hear in the latest action movie, but it suits the movie just fine. The packaging advertises closed captioning but it's nowhere to be found. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary track with director Rick Alverson (via Skype) and actor Tim Heidecker. The pair discusses the origins of the product, why various actors were brought on board for various parts, shooting on location and the development of a few of the film's key scenes. There's some humor mixed in here as well as some good information and it's a well paced track without a lot of dead air. They talk about the music used in the opening scene, the drinking in the movie (some of which is real and some of which is not), his character's weight, and how some of the cast members dealt with shooting a movie in what was essentially an unscripted way. Aside from that, we get roughly twenty minutes of deleted scenes that expand on a few bits and pieces of character and plot development in the movie, some static menus and chapter selection. There's a lot of irritating American Express branding in the extras and on the packaging.
Not at all the type of outlandish and bizarre public access sketch comedy nonsense you'd expect from Heidecker, 2012's The Comedy is instead a surprisingly pensive and well thought out character study. Yes, there are moments of off the wall madcap humor scattered liberally throughout the movie but underneath all of this is an interesting slice of life about a man who doesn't want to grow up fighting it every step of the way. The DVD looks and sounds good and includes a couple of choice supplements as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.