Here’s information you need before settling in to watch the surreal indie dramedy “Entertainment.”
The star is Gregg Turkington, and the character he’s performing is named Neil Hamburger, Turkington’s stage alter ego, aka “The World’s Worst Comic.”
Which, from the bountiful evidence presented by the film proves, he is.
He looks like Dwight Yoakam gone to seed — pudgy, flop sweaty in his ill-fitting cheap tux, balding, with only a greasy comb-over to call his own.
The Hamburger conceit is a through-the-looking-glass performance art riff on comedy, the psyche of comics and the viewer’s response to stand-up, challenging our Pavlovian reaction to ba-DOOM-boom set-up/punch line humor.
“What’s the worst thing about being raped by Crosby, Stills and Nash?”
“Why don’t rapists eat at T.G.I. Friday’s?”
The punch-lines are squirm-inducing, excruciating, as indeed is his entire act. His rage at hecklers — of which there are many — crosses every line in the book. He may be “literally plucking jokes out of my heart,” but onstage, he has no heart. And onstage, he has no jokes.
Co-writer/director Rick Alverson (“The Comedy”) uses a desert Southwest tour by this character called “the comic” (one person does call him “Neil”) to ask the existential question — Are you a comic if nobody laughs?
That’s giving the film more credit for a through line than it actually has. “Entertainment” is rife with randomness, shot through with misery and self-loathing and flat out unpleasant as a screen experience.
As “The Comic” plays prisons, parties and the emptiest, sandiest dives this side of Tucumcari, he leaves heartfelt (and unreturned) phone messages for his daughter. He encounters Latin Americans, hecklers, dazed “fans” and a wealthy orange-grower cousin (John C. Reilly) who doesn’t understand his edgy act at all. He’s not alone.
“Where do you wanna go?” the cousin, standing in for the audience, asks. “Where’s this leading to?”
The pregnant woman giving birth in a public restroom, the guy (Michael Cera) taking shelter there? As random as the remains of an offroad car wreck that draws The Comic’s attention, and the director’s.
Is Hamburger in Hell? Purgatory? The anger and isolation and nightmarish nature of the never-ending road-trip through the boondocks capture something fundamental to the stand-up experience.
But it’s difficult to give Alverson and his star too much credit for depth, insight or having a point. Because I’m not certain they have one.
MPAA Rating:R for language, crude sexual material, a disturbing image and brief drug use
Cast: Gregg Turkington, Tye Sheridan, John C. Reilly, Amy Seimetz
Credits: Directed by Rick Alverson, script by Rick Alverson, Gregg Turkington and Tim Heidecker. A Magnolia release.