Rick Alverson’s Entertainment

There are some films that just aren’t for everybody, and seem to have even been fashioned to deliberately repel a certain demographic, as if to weed out those unwilling to take a trip down the weird end of the street and serve as a litmus test to determine who will stand-fast. Folks like John Waters, Todd Solondz and Lars Von Trier are prime examples of artists who traffic in such cheerfully provocative, knowingly inflammatory ventures and now Rick Alverson is well on his way with an eerie, uncomfortably abstract mood piece called Entertainment that I saw a long time ago and recently caught up with, and let me tell you it’s just as fucking bizarre as I remember. Alverson wrote this alongside Tim Heidecker himself and their buddy actor Gregg Turkington, who graduated with honours from the proverbial Tim & Eric Theatre Of Shock & Awe and works frequently with the two, so his badge of bizarre was squarely pinned to his chest before churning out this relentlessly off-putting curio of dust-bowl doldrums, against type cameos, agonizing awkwardness, surreal dreamscapes and nightmarish atmosphere. The film follows pitiful nebbish ‘The Comedian’ (Turkington), a would be standup comic with no audience on a tour to nowhere somewhere in the desolate American southwest. His jokes are excruciatingly cringe, his onstage personality is a grating head-scratcher, his doubting manager (John C. Reilly in a hilariously deadpan cameo) subtly begs him to tone the weirdness down, and just overall this guy’s life seems like a dead end that’s swiftly leading to a deader end. His one respite and glimmer of hope is infrequent phones calls where he leaves forlorn voicemails to an estranged daughter that we never see, perhaps because she never existed at all and it’s his last ounce of conviction to cry for help into an abysmal void. He runs into many characters along the way played by the likes of Heidecker himself, Dean Stockwell, Tye Sheridan, Amy Seimetz and Michael Cera as an impossibly creepy dude that he has an icky run-in with in a men’s bathroom. Many will find this to be a frustrating, confounding, empty, disquieting experience and that’s fine, I would be worried if *everyone* liked it. I admit that this particular flavour of weird isn’t typically my bag and that chunks of it were lost on me, like his interminable bouts of caustic and repulsive verbal digression on the standup stage. However, when the perception and focus shifts over to his ponderous meanderings in the Mojave desert and the incredibly effective, soul shaking original score by Robert Donne I got a real sense of this character’s waywardness, disconnect from everything around him and complete, utter loneliness, and on that front I was able to connect with the film. It’s unique, it’s weird, it’s darkly funny in a sort of brittle, curdled way and uses illogical, jagged sensibilities to explore an artist whose work alienates and humiliates him. You will either vibe with this intensely or be wholly turned off, there’s no real middle-ground.

-Nate Hill

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