2015 existential dramedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A stand-up comedian wanders around the desert.

I should note right off the bat that this movie isn't for everybody. I'm intrigued by Neil Hamburger, the stage persona of Gregg Turkington, and it's mostly because of how different that brash stage persona and the real guy seem to be. And you really feel that difference here with Turkington's wonderful performance. Turkington was recently in Ant-Man very briefly, but he's not really an actor. I was surprised at how good he was in this. It's a nuanced performance, and there's a lot of depth to the character without Turkington really needed to do a whole lot. A lot of it has to do with body language, the timing, and his overall appearance. The greasy hair, the nose, the poor posture, and an unsure gait contribute to creating this character who's clambering through the desert with all this psychological weight pushing him down. More than any other movie character I can remember seeing, it's like there's this unseen hand from above pressing down on the comedian. I think a lot of this movie is about a man's hatred of himself as he is forced to become something he doesn't want to become for the sake of entertainment. The feeling is so palpable that it becomes haunting.

The movie's listed as a drama, but there are definitely some funny moments. The Hamburger stage character would grow tiresome if you had to spend too much time with him, but his jokes ("What's the worst part of being gang-raped by Crosby, Steals, and Nash?" or "What do you get when you cross Sir Elton John with a saber-tooth tiger?" and timely jokes about E.T.) are funny because you can't tell whether they're offensive because they are offensive or if they're offensive because they're just so bad. I'm mystified by the jokes because I never know who the target is. Is Hamburger poking fun at comedy, picking on corporations, attacking celebrities? Does he hate his audience? Entertainment shows Neil Hamburger on stage, but it has more to do with Turkington sitting around doing nothing at all, venturing into the desert to see airplane graveyards or other tourist attractions, or trying to connect with his daughter. Oh, and Tye Sheridan plays his opening act--an irritating clown act. His best gag is a toss-up between pantomimed masturbation or pantomimed shitting-into-his-hat.

When I watched The Comedy, another Rick Alverson movie that is more like drama than comedy, I wasn't prepared for it. I expected, you know, a comedy. Instead, you got this relentlessly depressing anti-movie. I was more prepared for this one and knew what to expect going in. It didn't make the experience any less depressing. This is still so consistent and relentless with its listlessness. It's not a movie that's going to make anybody happy, but it's fascinating watching this character move through this increasingly surreal tour through the desert. The music haunts, the performance captivates, and some scenes (a scene with a pregnant woman in a bathroom, a machine-gun act that they're "not paying for," a meeting a lonely Michael Cera in a public restroom, an intrusion into a Mexican soap opera) stick with you after it's all over.

Oh, and the worst thing about being gang-raped by Crosby, Steals, and Nash? No Young, of course.

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