Review: 'The Comedy' Wants To Make You Squirm

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have already unsurprisingly brought their cult favorite TV show to the big screen this year with the shrill, surreal “Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” but less expected is their involvement in Rick Alverson’s equally uncomfortable character study, “The Comedy.”

Despite the pasty revelry of its opening moments, this is more of a one-man show, with Heidecker taking the lead as Swanson, a layabout Williamsburg 30-something whose life is literally adrift on a yacht in the East River when he isn’t carousing with friends (including Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy) or confronting strangers. Swanson has a lot of free money, a lot of free time, an ailing father, an incarcerated brother, a fed-up sister-in-law and a primary interest in keeping the world at a jokey remove in his every social interaction.

Coming off as something like “Five Easy Pieces” for the hipster set, “The Comedy” reveals itself to be more of a tragedy about entitlement and self-loathing, a seemingly sincere movie about a deeply ironic and unfulfilled man as he belongs to a culture -- hell, maybe even an entire generation -- terrified of sincerity. (Even the film’s own title can be seen as an apt touch of irony at the expense of the “Tim & Eric” fanbase.) He pretends to work as a gardener to no avail before getting a job as a dishwasher that he doesn’t need. He harasses some cab drivers for not turning on the radio while bribing others to let him take the wheel for a night. He walks into a bar full of black men and casually offers to gentrify the place with the help of his own shades-and-shorts crew.

The only people with whom our beer-swilling, bile-spewing anti-hero would appear to get along are hospitalized strangers who can’t respond to his pranky presence at their bedside and kids who aren’t bothered by his insistence on always goofing around. When it comes to behaving around adults, though, Swanson doesn’t hesitate to forgo proper protocol and indulge in deadpan rants about the considerable merits of Hitler’s politics and the likely cleanliness of hobo genitals, a character trait that Heidecker sells without fail. “Billion Dollar Movie” sought to provoke by filling bathtubs with literal excrement; director/co-writer Alverson (“New Jerusalem”) is more prone to having Swanson fill conversations with it instead.

The film is in turn filled with conversations and confrontations like these as it meanders about, looking for trouble much as Swanson himself is, an aimlessness alleviated only by the slight promise of an oddball romance with an equally vulgar waitress (Kate Lyn Sheil). Like his lead, Alverson just wants people to care, even if that subsequent emotion takes on the form of hate, and as such, “The Comedy” has my begrudging respect.

“The Comedy” is currently available On Demand and will open in select cities starting November 9th.

Grade: C+