The Fessenden-EP’d ENTERTAINMENT, director Rick Alverson’s follow up to the GEP-Produced THE COMEDY, opens in theaters today. See the film that Jeannette Catsoulis of NY Times calls a “downward odyssey that’s hard to shake off.”
By Jeannette Catsoulis
Watching “Entertainment” is a profoundly uncomfortable, some would say repellent, experience that isn’t easily forgotten. Yet I left this barbed portrait of a cracking-up comic with more than a little respect for its fearless director, Rick Alverson, and his trusting star, Gregg Turkington. You can’t deny that they’re a match made in heaven.
Or at least in the California desert, where Mr. Turkington, known simply as the Comedian (and playing a version of his real-life stand-up persona, Neil Hamburger), schlumps from one seedy, underpopulated gig to another. Onstage, carefully arranged strands of comb-over cling to his pallid forehead like wet seaweed, and spare drinks nestle in the crook of his arm. Whether he’s spewing tasteless riddles or responding to hecklers, his act is a sewer of misogyny, homophobia and sexual insult. There is also an unspoken sense that his audiences — trimmings of humanity trapped in a soulless limbo of dust and dive bars — deserve no better.
Capturing a world of flyblown mirrors and sad carpeting, where shirts are washed in motel room sinks, and terrible things happen in public restrooms, Mr. Alverson jacks up the tension with exquisite restraint. Winding scene after scene to a breaking point, he brings our discomfort to a rolling boil, then quietly backs away. Amplified by the stillness of Lorenzo Hagerman’s camera, these moments inspire an apprehension that feels slightly sadistic, as if Mr. Alverson were enjoying his screw-turning a little too much.
Even if he were, there’s a strange nobility to this downward odyssey that’s hard to shake off. Snippets of well-chosen music appear judiciously, though not in the movie’s best scene: a squirmy bathroom encounter between the comedian and a tense young stranger (a perfect Michael Cera). When the comic warns his new acquaintance to back off, we know the younger man would do well to listen. JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
“Entertainment” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Foul language, flowing alcohol and frightening midwifery.