The opening shots of Entertainment are largely static. The Comedian (Gregg Turkington, essentially playing in this film a fictionalized version of himself and his comedic alter-ego Neil Hamburger), stands in an airplane fuselage, looking down. He watches as a clown, Eddie the Opener (Tye Sheridan), prepares for a set at a prison. He looks on dour-faced as the clown “wows” the crowd of prisoners by simply bouncing a ball and clapping his hands.
The first spoken dialogue in the film comes from a tour operator who encourages The Comedian and others to “by all means, go ahead and wander.” Yet the film does the opposite. The camera does not wander, it sticks on shots of minor to no action. This seems par for the course for director Rick Alverson, whose 2012 “comedy” The Comedy relies on similar non-action and static-ness.
The Comedian tours the country, visiting lame tourist attractions and trying desperately each night to get in contact with his daughter. He never fully feels welcome anywhere he goes, even though it comes with the territory with his chosen profession.
The film embraces this “misery loves comedy” adage. The Comedian is clearly searching for something, but it isn’t really happiness. He travels from gig to gig just to fail, and he continues in spite of his own misery. Like in The Comedy, the question of character motivation is front and center, only, in the case of Entertainment, the character is far more sympathetic. The tortured soul is torturing himself, but he doesn’t deserve to be tortured like the protagonist of The Comedy.
Also like The Comedy, narrative is not privileged over character to the point where the narrative is strikingly unconventional. No three-act structure will be found here; it is more of a repeated cycle with increasing severity. Even with this severity, Alverson will set up moments of conventional narrative intensity, but these moments will lead nowhere. The insertion of moments like these can be put into question, but they solidify what this film is really about: the mental self-destruction of a human being.
Entertainment is a fascinating character study, even if it doesn’t progress to a satisfying conclusion. But this lack of conclusiveness is where Alverson draws the most realism. The film is heartbreaking because there is nothing narratively satisfying about it. It is an excursion through the broken soul of The Comedian, as well as a meta-commentary about the effects of an audience that just doesn’t understand.
I spent a portion of this article comparing Alverson’s two works, Entertainment and The Comedy, something that really isn’t hard to do given their distinctly similar tone and aesthetic. But, at the same time, these two films couldn’t be farther from each other. In my review of The Comedy I used the term “meander” to describe the film’s narrative, and Entertainment does its fair share of meandering through The Comedian’s life as well. However, the tragedy found in each case yields far different “comedy” than the other. In the case of Entertainment, the existential dilemma is far more impactful.
Entertainment can be found on Amazon Video to rent or buy.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)
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