Entertainment :: Basically, the Donald Trump of Comedy…

Cineville - Entertainment

Having almost enjoyed The Comedy, I thought I’d go along to see Entertainment, Rick Alverson’s follow-up, also screening at the Eye the very next day. Unfortunately, Entertainment had all of the unpleasantness of The Comedy and none of the redeeming slivers of humanity. So I kind of hated it.

It’s the story of a clinically depressed misanthrope who tours American desert towns as a stand-up comedian, accompanied by an obnoxious and rather vulgar clown. It’s not a comedy.

The unnamed comedian is, from the opening scene, a figure of some gargantuan repulsiveness. Physically defunct, he sports a hopeless, pendulous gut, wiry ear hair and a permanent deep-rooted scowl. Worse still, the repulsiveness of his physical appearance is matched only by the repulsiveness of his punchlines, many of which feature rape and semen. There’s a lot of misogyny.

He is, in short, the world’s worst stand-up comedian. He has odious jokes and the worst temperament. He also seems to genuinely believe that his failure as a comedian is the fault of the audience, every time. He is basically the Donald Trump of comedy. But with – and I know you’ll cringe at this but I feel it’s true – with none of the likeability.

Cineville - Entertainment

So this is a painful film to sit through, and by all accounts, many don’t make it.

At first it felt like an absurdist comedy and I thought I might be able to squeeze some enjoyment out of it – actually I did. I enjoyed the pleasure of – to use director Rick Alverson’s own words – believing in the potential of the film. But eventually it became so utterly depressing and thoroughly without even a vague nod toward pleasure, that the potential fell away.

Cineville - Entertainment

I mean, I don’t want to come across as some stuffy old traditionalist who requires that a film has to have a likeable central character and a coherent narrative in order for me to enjoy it, but … well, there are limits. There has to be something I can empathise with, and there has to be some hope. My only emotional investment can’t be sitting in someone’s darkness and praying for light. That’s not any kind of entertainment.

Of course, Alverson might suggest that it is precisely because I am a little hidebound by traditional cinematic expectations that I failed to respond positively to the film.

Alverson was there at the end again to talk about his film. During the Q&A, Rick de Gier asked Alverson about the US election, and if that had an influence on the making of the film. I thought he was joking, but Alverson took him seriously. Furthermore, he said it absolutely did. He said that every time he makes a film he thinks about voting.

‘I think about voting and I think about why people don’t … and I think that’s largely because of certain indoctrinations in audio-visual media and social media and films and the history of cinema in the States. It’s because it’s designed to create passive audiences and to reflect oneself and one’s self-interest on the screen and that passivity we carry out into our daily lives and it … makes us feel content, in a way that we maybe shouldn’t, because we’re not. That disengagement percolates down into politics and the voting booth. And I think restlessness in the intellect and in the body, in the comfort of the cinema actually creates active minds that want to be engaged in the world outside of the cinema.’

Ergo, shit films breed rebellion.

Cineville - Entertainment

I don’t really buy it. I think you’ve a lot more chance of inspiring people to be politically active by telling coherent stories with characters that are sympathetic and relatable at least on one level. Maybe I am a traditionalist.

Alverson believes that mainstream cinema relies upon ‘manipulative strategies for corporations to create good consumers’, adding, ‘I like the skeptical consumer’.

Well, I am the skeptical consumer. Deeply skeptical. And in the case of something as wilfully grotesque as Entertainment, I have to take a pass.

Having said all that, I preferred it Doctor Strange, which is probably exactly the kind of mainstream drivel that Alverson is reacting against.


Cineville - Entertainment


The Viewing

There were around 15 people in the audience and they were – I imagine – so unimpressed by the film that no one would ask any questions when the time came. Alverson, to his credit, seemed quite amused by the silence. ‘Anything,’ he said. ‘I dare you to say something.’ I didn’t want to be rude, so I remained silent.

The Q&A was tied up after 15 minutes. It was awkward, and uncomfortable, and it lasted too long. I expect Rick Alverson loved it.

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you’ll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already.

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