By Don Simpson | November 28, 2012
Director: Rick Alverson
Writers: Rick Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O’Leary
Starring: Tim Heidecker, Kate Lyn Sheil, James Murphy, Eric Wareheim, Gregg Turkington, Jeffrey Jensen, Alexia Rasmussen
Writer-director Rick Alverson tests his audience from the get-go with an opening scene of such perverted over-indulgence that even Caligula may have needed to avert his eyes. It is as if Alverson is attempting to weed out the weak at heart from the audience, all the while setting the stage for a story of a sublimely unlikable, uber-wealthy man-child.
Our incalculably immature anti-hero, Swanson (Tim Heidecker), exists somewhere in a perverse cinematic universe between Chance Gardner (Hal Ashby’s Being There) and Arthur Bach (Steve Gordon’s Arthur). Stuck in the quagmire of a mid-thirties existential crisis, Swanson approaches life like a 12-year-old boy armed with far too much knowledge about prolapsed anuses — unless he is just talking utter nonsense out his ass (as he does about hobos, Hitler, and feudalism). Swanson’s philosophical ramblings play like a mockery of intellectualism or an half-hearted attempt to pass himself off as a worldly hipster.
Swanson possesses a naïve inability to relate to other human beings in any way other than with a shock and awe campaign in which he spews raunchy, filthy verbal bile. Even less brazen attempts at communication are muddled by the exaggerated language of a pop culture caricature, such as Swanson’s embarrassing attempt at a conversation with a group of black men at a bar. Deep down inside, Swanson seems to want to make a connection; a curiosity about the real world flickers in his eyes, as he tries to relate with common people. Swanson may surround himself with like-minded imbeciles, whom he connects with on a very primal level; but he seems incurably bored by the secluded bubble of the one-percent. This might be why Swanson pretends to have a career, whether it be as a landscaper, cab driver or in retail; eventually going as far as taking a job as a dishwasher for $7.50 an hour. Swanson has adopted a working class persona with facial scruff, shaggy hair, unkempt attire, and is always toting a plastic shopping bag; even Swanson’s drink of choice (Pabst Blue Ribbon) is remarkably blue collar (though it is also the beer of choice for hipsters). Essentially, Swanson has gone from his protective bubble of affluence to existing within an impenetrable cloud of falsities and ironies.
Other than Heidecker’s painstakingly profound performance, the strength of Alverson’s film is that it never once panders to the audience. We can each indulge in our own psychoanalysis of Swanson, but we will never learn anything about him. No motive is given for any of Swanson’s actions; we can only guess at why he does any of the things that he does. While I have justified everything as inept attempts at connecting with and participating in the real world, Swanson’s actions could also be interpreted as a rebellion against his father and his inherited life of privilege, or it could just be a 90-minute cry for help from an incredibly depressed man.