SXSW FILM 2015
By Don Simpson | March 22, 2015
Director: Rick Alverson
Writer: Rick Alverson, Gregg Turkington, Tim Heidecker
Starring: Gregg Turkington, Tye Sheridan, John C. Reilly, Michael Cera, Lotte Verbeek, Dean Stockwell, Amy Seimetz, Tim Heidecker, Kalia Prescott, Tonantzin Carmelo
Donning a thrift store tuxedo with thinning hair manipulated into a greasy combover, Gregg Turkington channels his anti-comedy stand-up persona Neil Hamburger. While touring the comedic purgatory of dive bars and prisons across the Mojave Desert with a hapless clown sidekick (Ty Sheridan), the nameless comedian spews vile one-line zingers with the gracefulness that one hacks up phlegm. He says that he just wants to put smiles on his audience’s faces, but his shrilly antagonistic approach plays as one of shock and disgust.
Although one would assume that such a tasteless comedian would be immune to hecklers, disdainful comments from his audience repeatedly derail his routine into dramatic fits of anger. When the comedian slips back into his frumpy everyman offstage self, the lingering aftermath of yet another performance gone horribly awry visibly gnaws away at his already emotionally wrecked soul. His only lifeline is the existence of his estranged daughter whom he is presumably en route to visit; however, every time his phone calls are relegated to his daughter’s voicemail, it is yet another painful shot to his heart.
With auteurist panache, Rick Alverson presents an intoxicatingly visual allegory in which the mise-en-scène is saturated with significance and meaning. Entertainment gives us a glimpse inside his protagonist via profound symbolism, such as an airplane cemetery in which dilapidated fuselages mirror the comedian’s innards and oil fields that suggest the presence of an icky darkness beneath his surface. Then, by including a lecture on color theory, Alverson slyly instructs us on his distinctly crafted color palate.
Entertainment captures its subject with such brutal authenticity that it feels almost like a “behind the scenes” look at Neil Hamburger. Brilliantly capturing the crippling loneliness of a floundering desert comedian, Alverson follows his unlikeable protagonist as he slides deeper into a pit of existential despair. This sublimely misanthropic meditation on life follows a meandering narrative path of shaggy dog surrealism, occasionally bedazzling the protagonist’s loathsome life with random absurdities. Wallowing in the sweat and urine-soaked mire of its self-perpetuating moroseness, Entertainment‘s narrative arc is practically indiscernible, thus fabricating a pitch-perfect antithesis of its title.