Review: ENTERTAINMENT (2015)

By Darin Skaggs

                Most artist creations come from a certain degree of pain or inner turmoil whether it be movie makers, painters, musicians and so on. In Rick Alverson’s Entertainment the nameless protagonist, played by Gregg Turkington, goes around as a stand-up comic performing seemingly unnecessary crude jokes. You wonder why he is telling such offensive, and frankly not even that funny jokes. That does not become clear until you get a glimpse at his sad, pathetic and possibly tragic life off stage. The whole film seems to be a bad, offensive joke that is just to get Alverson through his pain and suffering. Luckily, this also makes for one of the most brilliant, thought provoking films to come out in a great while.

The title does not always mean that much to a film, often just seems to be there because they have to make one up, but this movie along with Alverson’s previous work, The Comedy seems to want to play with the audience and have a sense of irony. This movie is all about a stand-up comedian whose opening act is a clown played excellently by Tye Sheridan. He meets several strange characters who are played with some relativity well known comedians like John C. Riley playing the stand-up’s cousin and a freaky pit stop prowler played by Michael Cera. On paper all of this sounds fun, enjoyable and even tolerable, but the script form Alverson, Turkington and Tim Heidecker makes these events at times almost impossible to watch especially the back half of the film. The movie may be a comedy, what is happening to our poor character seems like punchlines most of the time, but you will find it hard to laugh. It either is not comfortable to watch or finds ways to turn a scene on its head to make it an unbearable journey. Even though it is a rough viewing experience it is a smart film, there is a lot of cynicism about the human race and fate in general that seems honest. It seems like a pallet cleanser to all the joy filled, forced happy endings that come from other movies. The whole movie might just be a reminder that life is good sometimes, but other times is just difficult to deal with.

The whole movie, besides the time we spend on stage with our comedian, there are two places we find ourselves. Our protagonist either watching an odd and seemingly random Spanish telenovela or calling his estranged daughter that, for some awful and probably tragic reason, does not pick up the phone. We do not know why he is watching the TV until the very end, which might be the coldest sucker punch in the film and yes I am counting the public restroom scene with the lady. It seems that this man has latched on to the only type of success he has had in the industry which is even sadder considering all the one sided conversations that he has with a daughter that may or not be there. Whatever you choose to believe this man has a large amount of delusion; delusion that he has any real fame or success in his job and also delusion that he has lost anything personal to him. He spends his time off stage attempting to feel nothing, knowing the dark cloud that is his depression will take over forever, only feeling any type of emotion towards those who heckle or worse in his eyes, ignore the jokes he tells on stage.

This movie is a hard movie to watch, nearly impossible at times. At almost no point will you want to laugh, though later you might just find yourself wondering if any of the filmmakers expected you to. With that fact it is clear every decision, script wise, cinematography wise and acting wise is in the hand of a group with a clear vision. You are not supposed to brush off the movie for being so offensive and sometimes rude. It is meant to make you think about life and about sadness and about humanity in general.

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