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Heather Donahue

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Sundance 2012: The Comedy

Posted: 01/24/2012 2:36 pm

The Comedy is the first movie I've ever walked out of. Ever. I could be overheard bitching to another lady who had also just walked out that it was the worst movie I'd ever seen. She agreed. We ranted in the snow about how we wanted to take the culture back from douches like Swanson. Which, on further consideration, is the point.

I'm a fan of scatological humor. I'm a fan of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I'm the kind of gal who didn't find the protagonist in Diablo Cody's Young Adult unlikable; I just thought she was a gal primed for transition. In fact, I found her so relatable that when people kept talking about how reprehensible she was, I had to step back and take stock. I tell you this only because The Comedy crossed my brightsider line. It features a non-stop unrelenting train wreck of a manboy. But that is just Swanson, the main character and his buddies -- and that's different from the movie. The movie is, on second thought, kind of brilliant.

My notes went like this:

Why do I want the story of a douchebag?
Wait, he's not a douchebag, he's a full-blown a**hole.
And why does he keep taking his shirt off?
And how can he afford a boat?

Followed by:

There's a reason there's only one Zach Galifianakis per successful movie.

This movie has a gaggle of them. Greasy, flaccid faux-Galifianakii soggy with PBR. In the jiggle-filled slo-mo opening sequence, Swanson, played with balls-out, cringeworthy courage by Tim Heidecker (of Tim and Eric fame) and his friends are body slamming each other naked with tucked genitals while pouring beer down each other's underwear.

One of the reasons for the visceral churn I experienced was: I've dated this guy. Not this actual guy, but a version of him. He is an archetype: the New American Manchild. I've dated him more than once. Not by choice, mind you, but because he's impossible to avoid. I walked out of The Comedy because, as my hang gliding instructor Tall Paul once said, "If you spot it, you got it." I know this impulse to stay adolescent. The alternative looks less appealing all the time. Ah, you who looked so wise settling down in your 20's with that steady job and mortgage -- where are you now, eh? Since the economy has gone to hell in the proverbial handbasket, it's a little easier to make perpetual adolescence look like a reasonable choice. If there has been one clear lesson of the last three years it is that nothing lasts. Not jobs, not houses, not America's AAA rating. If nothing lasts anyway, what does maturity really have to offer?

Since this seems to be the animating question for a broad swath of my generation, I didn't have to wonder why most scenes in The Comedy don't go anywhere except to the edge of uncomfortability, most notably when Swanson imitates a Southern Good Ol' Boy issuing a diatribe about, "Slave meat. Slave penis and vagina." His sister-in-law, whose husband has apparently just been admitted to a mental hospital is his silent witness. Of course his brother is in a mental hospital, that's what happens when you don't feel like you have a place in the world and don't see yourself finding one any time soon -- you have a breakdown.

The Comedy is the story of a man poking at his necrotic self, trying to find the pink bits. Except he doesn't find pink bits, so he just keeps poking. The bodyslamming in the opening sequence sets it all up: a bunch of dudes throwing themselves, penises tucked away, against each other and the world until it hurts. But even if it did, they wouldn't know, they've numbed themselves out, the better to poke. Maybe his brother wasn't numb. Maybe that's why Swanson sits on his brother's porch with a hefty whiskey recounting a guttered down version of American history, trying to figure out how we got exactly here, neck deep in nihilism...

...if you're a dude. It seems it's primarily the dudes who are responding to the recent American comeuppance (comedownance?) with a seemingly terminal loss of meaning. I know, I know, call me a gender essentialist, but the Sundance 2012 program is forcing my hand. Female characters are taking charge and leading the way out of this festerfunk in just about every movie I've seen here so far and many that I haven't. Films as diverse as Smashed, Hello I Must Be Going, For a Good Time Call..and perhaps most mythically in the much-buzzed Beasts of the Southern Wild would suggest the Lady Zeitgeist is upon us. We're getting a little more feminine up in this mess. And not a moment too soon.

 
 
 

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