Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

{The Comedy opens in Seattle on Friday, December 7, and is screening at the SIFF Film Center}

Director Rick Alverson is in a band called Spokane, and works with their creative and successful independent label Jagjagwuar, to make films two films before the just-released The Comedy, The Builder (2010) and New Jerusalem (2011). He's also done videos for Will Oldham, which is a good point of reference for his latest work. Both of his first two films dealt with illness and spirituality, and change and morality, in stark and scenic ways, similar to an LP by Bonnie Prince Billy. In the midst of both, a raging, sad, troubled heart beats — even if the dark humor and sense of space surrounding it seem contemplative. 

The Comedy continues Alverson's gorgeous yet provocative style, but with the addition of comedians Tim Heidecker (in the starring role) and his partner Eric Wareheim (yes, it's that Tim and Eric), and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Neil Hamburger (well, his real life persona Gregg Turkington), a whole other thing is happening. I will admit to being a Tim and Eric Awesome Show fan, and I am very sorry about that.

Yes, I know their aesthetic is obviously deplorable, but as a huge fan of Albert Brooks, I like my comedy to make me squirm, deeply. (And yes, they're a lot more disturbing and disgusting than Brooks, but that sense of absurd-existential malaise belongs in the same family, buy it or not.) When I play their DVDs, my wife says, "You didn't pay money for that, did you?" (Yes, yes, I did. Sorry, sweetheart.) Tim and Eric create a world without any sense of kinesthetic pleasure; it is grossly yet thoughtfully unpleasant. Mindfully upsetting and emotionally disturbing. I dig it, but in small doses, like really messed up electronic psychedelia or something (they're the Adult Swim equivalent of "Frankie Teardrops" by Suicide, maybe? Thirteen minutes of psyche-smacking "pleasure.")

But this is Alverson's movie, and the plotting, pacing, and character development is nuanced and sublime. It is filled with all manner of offensiveness — satirical racism, edging toward misogyny (OK, leaping right in near the end), treating sarcastic distance as a refined talent. It would not be anywhere as good if Heidecker wasn't starring in it, playing the kind of guy we think makes Tim and Eric. Now, I didn't see the Millionaire Movie Tim and Eric made and released shortly before this — I heard it was just more of the same, but at an hour and a half and way too many shit jokes. But if you fear this is just another gonzo shot at the jugular, well, you'd have a point. And it's not a date movie, that's for sure, unless your partner grew up on creepy, weird character studies from the late 60s/early 70s, back when Hollywood wasn't afraid to tell stories about people on the margins (Midnight Cowboy, for example). 

And this is one of those character studies — about a really unlikeable person, who probably can't be redeemed. It ends with him splashing in the water like a kid (and if you do go to see this, note the use of children in the film, it speaks volumes about the emotional intelligence of the character). But that's probably not a metaphor for baptism; my guess is that he gratingly lives his Brooklyn hipster, waiting-for-trust-fund existence, just to splash around. Thus, the abuse of cab drivers, the hijacking of low-end jobs just to feel something (maybe?), the constant partying, the intoxicating smear of entitled shame with cruelty-jacked ennui. I think it captures this type of person perfectly, and even goes a meaner step in asking us to wonder what makes him stay alive. Without saying a word, Heidecker tells us that's what he's constantly avoiding thinking about, if he possibly can. 

The details are all there, from the whiskey and PBR to the vinyl LP booty-slapping mock swinger's party, criticizing your generation and mine. Growing up in a world of our fathers, and only really inheriting money, if anything. Eric is describing a photo at one point, but it's only to mention that his dad was angry when it was taken, because his brother wasn't facing the right direction. This is the slight sense of squeamy self-pity in everything anyone in the center cast does in this movie, though they try to veil it through abusive irony and disrespect.

It takes a whole lot of faith or faithlessness to live like this, I can't decide which. But I loved it, and I highly recommend it to people who love things like Chris Ware's Building Stories graphic novel, or enjoys the Sarah Silverman show, or listens/watches comedy by standard-challengers like Louis CK and Doug Stanhope.