The Opening Act, 2020.
Written and Directed by Steve Byrne.
Starring Jimmy O. Yang, Neal Brennan, Jermaine Fowler, Cedric the Entertainer, Alex Moffat, Bill Burr, Debby Ryan, Ken Jeong, Roy Wood Jr., Russell Peters, Courtney Pauroso, Jackie Tohn, Tom Segura, Alonzo Bodden, Mircea Monroe, Iliza Schlesinger, Brooks Wheelan, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Kathleen Madigan, Jessimae Peluso, and Whitney Cummings.
The film follows Will Chu whose true life passion is to become a stand-up comedian. He is given the opportunity to emcee a comedy show, opening for his hero, Billy G. Chu has to decide if he wants to continue the life he has set up or to pursue his dream, the life of a comedian.
Did you know that rapper Will.I.Am is actually just wordplay on the name William? I sure didn’t, and it seems like Jimmy O. Yang’s aspiring standup comedian protagonist Will in The Opening Act didn’t know either, since his younger self watching legendary performers while growing up has his mind blown by the fun fact. The montage of youth and classic bits also serves as a reminder that much like acting, improv comedy encompasses a wide range of ethnicities and cultures with the cream of the crop playing into their own personal knowledge for humor whether it be vulnerable, self-deprecating, enlightening, or straight up dirty. This also means that we are shown the world of crafting jokes is not always politically correct, which is something that works for the edgy Asian jokes on stage given that Jimmy O. Yang is written and directed by Korean comedian Steve Byrne.
It’s also pleasant to simply be talking about a feature-length movie where Jimmy O. Yang is the lead. He’s probably not necessarily known by name, but anyone that’s been paying attention to adult-oriented comedies of the past decade or so (especially with the Judd Apatow sphere of comedic talent) will recognize his appearance as someone that’s always in the background of the aforementioned works typically burning some big laughs. Much like his character Will scratching and clawing for his big break in the world of standup comedy, Jimmy O. Yang the actor has a chance to seize a moment.
And he does make good on the opportunity. Laboring through a soul-crushing office job he has no passion for (not to mention a hardass boss played by Bill Burr) while his girlfriend (Debby Ryan) already has her dream career as an elementary teacher, Will takes the encouragement from those around him and decides to quit as his friend (Ken Jeong) manages to line up an MC position for him at a Philadelphia comedy club that could be his ticket to bigger and better things. It’s also a morale boost that will most likely get some brief one-on-one time with Billy G (Cedric the Entertainer playing a fictional standup comedy star with his own television show and more). It’s not all productivity, though, as there are plenty of distractions including his set partner for the weekend, Chris (Alex Moffat), who is more interested in partying hard and getting laid then he is making it big as a funny man.
For much of The Opening Act, it almost feels like Will simply doesn’t belong, as he remains focused on the task at hand doing his best to avoid getting sucked into the rambunctious nightlife. Further amplifying that ostracization is his weak material that consistently feels like someone trying too hard in the wrong ways rather than searching for humor organically and from within. The obstacle of working the crowd, especially hecklers, also comes into play, as pretty much anytime someone puts Will down he goes from losing the crowd to doubting himself exponentially and imploding in real-time.
For as formulaic and predictable as the story is here, it does have quite a bit of and the appeal of not only a minority lead but an immensely likable actor in Jimmy O. Yang taking the ball and running with it. Unfortunately, the narrative goes on some detours that are both pointless and not funny (this ranges from disastrous radio show appearances to an extended sequence of him resisting sexual harassment from a drunk woman that not only concludes bizarrely but has an eventual payoff that doesn’t play amusingly as intended for one or two important reasons). However, there are also moving moments (such as Will receiving his first paycheck from doing what he loves) that’s strongly executed enough to take anyone back to the time they were financially compensated for doing something that meant something to them. As cliché as they are, the words of wisdom from Billy G also make for some mildly inspiring dialogue exchanges.
The Opening Act also doesn’t beat around the bush regarding that you’re probably going to fail repeatedly while trying to make it, but it’s getting back up, not giving up, and believe in yourself that matters most. One character tells Will to quit, another gives advice and tells him to stick it out; it’s a situation I’ve personally been a part of when it comes to being a film critic. No one wants to hear the words “this is not for you”, but if you do, tune them out and keep fighting. Be defined by consistently improving and your greatest work, not your bombs. As for The Opening Act, the humor gets dicey whenever Steve Byrne shifts away from the standup set, but the movie has heart and an endearing cast ensuring that this is no bomb.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com