Directed by Rick Alverson.
Starring Gregg Turkington, John C. Reilly, Amy Seimetz, Tye Sheridan, Lotte Verbeek, and Michael Cera.
En route to meet his estranged daughter and attempting to revive his dwindling career, a broken, aging comedian plays a string of dead-end shows in the Mojave desert.
“I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Life seems harsh, and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world. Doctor says: “Treatment is simple. The great clown – Pagliacci – is in town. Go see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. “But doctor…” he says “I am Pagliacci.” Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.”
Watchmen is the last thing I expected to quote when reviewing a low-budget independent drama, but Entertainment strikes that cord of jokesters in reality being tortured sad souls all too well. Exploring depression and misery isn’t necessarily anything new for director Rick Alverson, and this time around the morbidly melancholy tone is laid on thicker than ever thanks to Gregg Turkington (AKA Australian stand-up comedian Neil Hamburger) portraying a down-on-his-luck, lost soul traveling the rundown bar circuit of the Mojave Desert, attempting to deliver heavy laughs onstage to patrons. The jokes tend to be unanimously regarded as offensive and crass, eliciting a mere chuckle here and there from the already lousy attendance, which only sends The Comedian (as he’s billed in the ending credits) into whirlwinds of focused rage aimed at whoever disrespects the genuine love and dedication to his craft, humorous or not.
This is juxtaposed with a pantomime clown played by Tye Sheridan who sticks to a basic toilet humor routine of mimicking things like masturbation and shitting violent diarrhea into his black hat. It sparks interesting discussion on what actually is funny, what should be considered funny, who to respect as far as comedians go, while all-too accurately representing the struggles of a man who seemingly loves what he does but is bested by his opening act at every turn, even though it’s composed of nothing but scatological humor anyone can write-up and act out.
Outside of stage comedy, Entertainment likes to zone in on the personal life of The Comedian in relatively abstract methods (there are numerous scenes lit in various colors to represent current thoughts and emotions), simply making clear that he is lost in a haze of depression. Throughout the film he tries to rekindle a relationship with his daughter by repeatedly calling her, as if he would trade his unglamorous, poor-paying, low-attending comedy gigs in a heartbeat to be reunited with her. It’s never really clear what separated them, but that’s not the point of Entertainment.
The film doesn’t really go anywhere, instead just circling itself through the same patterns of comedy gigs and lingering depression, which certainly isn’t going to make Entertainment pleasant viewing for everyone, but at the same time it almost feels necessary for audiences to give it a chance. Sure, the performance by Gregg Turkington (complete with his signature comb-over hairstyle, nasally voice, and rude humor intentionally designed to push on the buttons of more politically correct people) is something to behold as he juggles it with another side of The Comedian’s personality that is downright harrowing and haunting, but the real reason Entertainment should be viewed is due to the fact that too many people, even after the suicide of the late great Robin Williams, take these comedians for granted as happy–go-lucky all smiles civilians living luxurious lifestyles, when realistically they are often living in a dark place mentally with a crushed soul.
With that said, the repetition does wear thin after a while, leaving you feeling like you have seen everything the film has to offer after roughly 30 minutes in, but there are still some pleasant surprises in store. Most notably is a moment where The Comedian erupts into a graphic sexual tirade about a heckler being a whore (it’s both equally disturbing and outrageously funny) that signifies his emotional state in a nutshell; ambitious but fatally broken from a lack of respect despite genuine love for his craft.
There are also some welcome minor supporting roles from recognizable faces such as John C. Reilly and Michael Cera to interact with The Comedian and keep things fresh. Still, too much of Entertainment is white noise, leaving the impression that it would have worked better off as a short film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook