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Rick Alverson's Entertainment is a comedy best described in one word as uncomfortable. It's not going to be a crowd pleaser and it takes things into some decidedly dark territory, but if the sort of confrontational and, yes, dark comedy that Alverson channeled in 2012's The Comedy worked for you then the odds are pretty good that this follow up while hit you on the same sort of level. While it hardly rehashes the earlier film, it works in similar ways and for similar reasons.
Gregg Turkington (known to alt comedy fans under his alter ego's name, Neil Hamburger) plays a greasy, awkward and decidedly unappealing standup comedian. He's got a comb over that seems almost glued to his head, his clothes often look dirty and in need of a wash. His hygiene appears to be lacking but despite all of this, he has a quest of sorts. See, as he travels about the southwest, performing in one crappy club after another sometimes accompanied by a young mime named Eddie (Tye Sheridan), he's hoping to find his estranged daughter, Maria.
Along the way he tells a lot of jokes, most of which are in very poor taste and offensive to his audience, and hangs out with his equally awkward cousin, John (John C. Reilly). This comedian's life is pretty miserable, and Entertainment makes no qualms whatsoever about dragging the audience down with him.
This was clearly not made as your typical mainstream comedy. Alverson and Turkington play things in an extremely dark direction and the humor stems not from the ‘hilarity' involved in the various situations that our comedian finds himself in or really the different people that he interacts with, but rather just how he keeps getting beaten down and how nasty he gets about all of this. While it's easy and common to want to cheer on the underdog, this character… his sense of humor is foul, nasty and abrasive. Turkington plays the part perfectly. His disheveled appearance lending a certain sense of carelessness and distance to the part works in the movie's favor. He not only looks the part, however, he acts it too. He's got the right mannerisms, the right sort of obnoxious behavior and what would seem to be such clear disdain for his audience that, like the man himself at times, you have to wonder why bother? He's very much a broken man in more ways than one and while, in a sense, finding his daughter might bring him some redemption you wind up that the movie is more interested in seeing Turkington make some painfully accurate jabs at comedians who spend their entire career at the bottom of the barrel.
Supporting work from John C. Reilly is as solid as we've come to expect from a multi-faceted actor such as he. Playing things fairly straight here, as opposed to something like Anchorman, Step-Brothers or Check It Out, he's definitely acting here, not just goofing around. Tye Sheridan as the mime is an odd presence yet somehow not at all out of place in this world, but really, this is more of a showcase for Turkington than it is the supporting players. Michael Cera also has an amusing cameo as a hustler that, while not essential the narrative, is noteworthy for how odd it seems.
Entertainment also works as a road movie of sorts. As the comedian travels around the American west, doing his shows at a different crappy bar each night, he does manage to take in some touristy sights. Even in these moments, however, even in these scenes he's not really socializing or doing the tourist thing as the movie is careful to showcase the fact that he wanders away from the rest of the groups or tour-guides, often seemingly distracted by minutia. The movie also makes interesting comparisons to his persona on and off the stage. When the spotlight is on, he's almost in attack mode, but back stage or during the day, he's reserved and withdrawn.
Quite nicely shot and effective in its use of sound, the movie is also pretty thought provoking. It makes you question what's worthwhile in life, it makes you question your own drive, your own reason for being not just through the questions that the storyline raises but through some pensive and stoic performances as well.The Blu-ray:
Entertainment is presented in a nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.67.1 that shows off plenty of detail and features impressive color reproduction. The movie is handsomely shot and the transfer brings that out really nicely. Texture is solid, colors are nicely reproduced and all the grit and grime in the bars and dives that much of the movie takes place in is visible. Black levels are solid and skin tones look good. The image is free of noise reduction or compression issues. Things look very good here.Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. This isn't the most aggressive mix in the world but it sounds very good. Dialogue is clean, clear and succinct and some well-placed sound effects take advantage of the surround channels at various times throughout the movie. Hiss and distortion are never a problem and the audio is properly balanced throughout the movie. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish.Extras:
Extras are limited to some deleted/extended scenes, menus and chapter selection. Trailers for a few unrelated Magnolia properties play before the main menu screen loads.Final Thoughts:
Entertainment isn't always cheery, happy funny stuff but the comedy is there, even if it is frequently pitch black. This is worth seeing if you're into avant-garde character studies and don't mind the odd touch of surrealism on the side. Turkington is great in the lead role and Alverson's assured direction paces things deliberately and properly. Magnolia's Blu-ray is light on extras but it does look and sound very good. 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.