You can’t deny that filmmaker Rick Alverson is setting out to make movies that no one else is making right now. After The Comedy a few years back, you’d expect nothing less, in fact. Well, Alverson has doubled down on his singular cinematic vision with Entertainment, another ironically named indie comedy that will make you fairly uncomfortable. Along with star and co-writer Gregg Turkington, Alverson documents the life of an insult comic as well as depicts the road trip genre with some biting satire, but also a dark minutia that will test your patience. Honestly, I’m still not fully sure what to make of this one, as Entertainment is full of ideas, but those ideas sometimes struggle to coherently make it up on to the screen. A lot of it is left up to you for interpretation, but it’s no doubt more challenging than some will accept. On my end, I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t go ahead and fully embrace it with a recommendation. There’s just something holding me back that’s hard for me to put my finger on. Even so, this is unlike anything else out there right now and could be a future cult classic in the making. Entertainment isn’t for everyone, and likely isn’t for most people, but it’s interesting enough to warrant consideration, even if I’m not overtly recommending it.
The film simply and without wavering depicts the surreal life of an aging insult comic. For The Comedian (Turkington), life is one crummy venue after the other, interspersed with crummy hotels or crummy tourist traps. Ostensibly heading towards a reunion with his estranged daughter, he mostly just drifts from job to job, usually ending up fighting with his unamused audiences, who seem to prefer the profane mime Eddie (Tye Sheridan) who opens up for him. Along the way, The Comedian meets up with a cousin (John C. Reilly) who claims to be a fan but wants him to change his entire act, has an awkward encounter in the bathroom with a hustler (Michael Cera), and generally just engages in his life’s overt weirdness. It’s an acquired taste for sure, deliberately off-putting at times, and if you cringe during the stand up segments, you’re likely to struggle with the rest of it even more. There’s some attempts at greater meaning during the third act, but this is mostly just a character study, albeit one of the weirdest ones of 2015 so far.
This is a showcase for Gregg Turkington, an actor, writer, and comedian in his own right who performs as the character of Neil Hamburger on stage. In many ways, this is an extension of that cult favorite alter ego, though filtered through a much stranger lens, if that’s possible. Tarkington is able to bring a nice level of humanity to this difficult part, which otherwise would have made it potentially unwatchable as a film. He’s unafraid to go to some very dark places in Entertainment, but the sadness within The Comedian is always on display as well. It’s his film, without question, though the supporting contributions of John C. Reilly and Tye Sheridan are well placed as well. The former is playing a far more normal character than he’s been fond of lately, while the latter shows a completely new side of himself. The aforementioned Michael Cera cameos here, while the cast also includes Amy Seimetz, Dean Stockwell, Lotte Verbeek, and more. Everyone embraces the weirdness of the flick with admirable commitment, but it’s Turkington who will leave the biggest impression on you when all is said and done. What kind of an impression though…well, that depends on your perspective on things.
Co-writer/director Rick Alverson has a keen sense of just how far he can push certain members of his audience. Sure, he’s going to puzzle and upset many, but for those who can go out on a limb, he knows how to shake them without making them tip over. The script, which he co-wrote with Turkington and Tim Heidecker, doesn’t quite develop the ideas enough for my tastes, but Entertainment is an undeniably well directed film. The Comedy might have worked better overall as a movie, but this shows that Alverson is one of the more distinctive voices in the indie filmmaking business right now. I’m eager to see what he does next, as he has something great in him, I just know it.
In the end, Entertainment is a niche item that will probably wind up having more of a future cult appeal than anything else. It divided audiences on the festival circuit and will likely continue to divide audiences going forward, but it’s not without its merits. The sum isn’t quite enough for me, but it’s possible that some of you will out and out love it. If you’re willing to go down an unusual rabbit hole, Entertainment could be something to check out at some point. I just can’t quite recommend it to you.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!