Nearly everything that happens in Rick Alverson's The Comedy is uncomfortable, off-putting and morally reprehensible. But the events also amount to a hilarious and needed screed against the ennui and insincerity of the film's characters. Starring Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric fame, The Comedy evinces a sensibility-testing variety of anti-comedy, like that pioneered by Andy Kaufman and seen more recently in Jackass. The loose narrative—really a series of semi-connected stunts—follows Heidecker's Swanson as he and his equally overprivileged friends ride fixies, down PBR by the six-pack and quell their boredom by engaging in mean-spirited stunts directed at any poor soul kind enough to give them the time of day.
Though Alverson and his onscreen cohorts initially appear to be building a monument to disaffected hipsterdom, they're in fact knocking it down and examining what substance—if any—might be found among the oversized sunglasses and cutoff shorts. The film champions what it appears to mock and indicts what it appears to glorify. There isn't always a 1-to-1 correlation between how inappropriately their antics begin and how funnily they end, but it's close.
Swanson takes this antisocial behavior to a new level of cruelty. He's utterly deadpan in putting on the airs of a Hitler apologist while attempting to bed a fellow partygoer, and faux-polite while paying a cabbie $400 to drive said taxi recklessly around Williamsburg (where else?). But it's all a defense mechanism. Swanson carries out misdeed after misdeed in order to provoke a reaction from people more in touch with the normal spectrum of human emotion, doing this to gain a sense of what it's like to care something for the world around him. As evidenced by the pain in his eyes when these attempts fail, he's disappointed time and again—the only characteristic that makes him even semi-relatable.
At times, The Comedy feels disjointedly episodic in the way it strings incidents together with little connective tissue between them, but it maintains such a compelling tension between humor and discomfort that it's often hard to notice. The results are not unlike a horror movie: The only thing more difficult than continuing to watch is averting your eyes and missing what might happen next.
Critic's Grade: B
SEE IT: The Comedy opens Friday at Clinton Street Theater.