This week in movies you missed: Oh, hipsters, what have ye wrought? The most divisive art-house movie of 2012, that’s what.
What You Missed
In this film that is not a comedy, comedian Tim Heidecker (of “Tim and Eric” fame) plays a 35-year-old in Williamsburg living off the wealth of his dying father. He sleeps on his boat and spends his days riding his bike, drinking PBR and messing with people — sometimes with the assistance of a crew of friends, who include Eric Wareheim and James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem.
Our hero riles up the unsuspecting folk around him — cab drivers, male nurses, girls at parties, churchgoers — with a blunt-instrument teasing method that middle-school boys would recognize as their own. Basically, anyone remotely earnest is fair game for his deliberately outrageous improv comedy. If they don’t find him as amusing as he finds himself, that’s their problem.
Why You Missed It
Director Rick Alverson’s movie dares the audience to hate it. Most apparently obliged, as it only reached four theaters beyond the festival circuit.
Should You Keep Missing It?
So, I’m a misanthrope. I like many films about unlikable people — Greenberg, for instance. The Comedy tested even my patience — it’s alternately boring and actively irritating — but I stuck with it, and I’m perversely glad I did.
Talk about a rousing endorsement. But really, here’s all you need to do. Skim the comments on this review. If you’re interested in a movie that is this polarizing and provokes this much self-reflection in a certain kind of already painfully self-aware audience, The Comedy is for you.
If you overuse irony, you may relate to the Heidecker character, whether you want to or not. This is a man for whom irony has gone beyond a habit and become a reflex, and the result is grotesque.
Think of the “stray businessman” in the classic “Kids in the Hall” sketch, checking his pager and handing out his card the way a pig might snuffle for truffles. This movie portrays hipsters in a similar manner, making them seem instinct driven and absurd. They’re wearing those Ray Bans not because they choose to, but because it’s how their herd behaves.
If you like “Girls,” The Comedy may also be for you, because Heidecker wields his paunch and reveals his ugly side as boldly as Lena Dunham. It’s a brave performance. Just don’t expect to take refuge from the ugliness in lighter sitcom moments, because there aren’t any.
I watched Punch Drunk Love for the first time just a week ago, and can’t help noticing the similarities. Both are movies in which a well-known comedian does his standard shtik in a real-world setting, and almost nobody laughs. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, everyone around Adam Sandler’s character is mildly appalled by his childish fits of rage, his funny voice, his obsessive-compulsiveness. In The Comedy, Heidecker steps into a bar in an African American neighborhood and asks, “Where are the bitches?” No one is amused.
But while Sandler’s character does prove lovable to somebody, Heidecker’s tests the patience of everyone, on screen and off. Is there anything to him but provocation? Does he have a soul? A few of the movie’s more lyrical scenes suggest that yes, he probably does. But we’ll never know for sure, and that’s exactly how he likes it.
Verdict: You may or may not like this — I can’t quite say I did — but it nails something real. If, because of The Comedy, there is one less girl who giggles at a bearded guy at a party because he’s oh-so-ironically praising Hitler, this movie will have done some good.
More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs
A Royal Affair (Denmark’s queen gets naughty in this period film)
“The Borgias,” season 2
“Veep,” season 1
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)