FOR MANY INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS today, “Most Walked-Out Film at Sundance 2012” is a perverse badge of honor, and Rick Alverson's deceptively titled The Comedy wears it with pride. That much seems clear from the film's opening shot: a slow-mo wrestling match between two fat, drunk, and nearly naked men, wheezy 30-somethings whose unlovely flesh swells and falls in time to Donnie and Joe Emerson's soulful 1979 song "Baby." Unlike the sweet young things that Donnie and Joe croon about in the background, Alverson's wrestlers are terrible to behold. They slap each other's fat asses and even fatter bellies and watch, transfixed, as their bodies jiggle under the camera's sepia watch. They spit beer on one another's backs, and gape as unnaturally sharp colors reflect off their own spittle. Silently, they howl. Maybe they laugh, but who can tell, really? The scene closes with the camera on Alverson's leading man Tim Heidecker — one half of the cult comedy team known as "Tim and Eric" — who has tucked his penis in between his legs off-screen. Mangina thus secured, Heidecker executes an expressive arm-flap worthy of any preening ballerina, and for a brief moment, he is lit as radiantly as any wispy black swan wannabe could ever hope to be.
According to reports from Sundance 2012, it was about this time that audience members began fleeing the theater in angry, muttering droves.
This review is, in no small part, a defense of The Comedy against the audience members who voted with their feet and against fuddy-duddy critics like A.O. Scott, who dismissed tout court the film's occasionally grotesque take on entitled, middle-aged hipsterdom. Amidst rumors of the hipster's demise, there's something original, if also glaringly obvious, about The Comedy's premise: hipsters in Williamsburg don't die or vanish into bourgeois obscurity. They age and they age badly. Indeed, for a subculture so relentlessly defined by its sartorial choices — the skinny jeans, skinny T-shirts, and skinny shoes forming the slick outer shell of ironic detachment — the natural give and sag of middle age portends certain, social doom. For those avowed non-hipsters watching from the sidelines, as recent converts to New Sincerity or radical empathy or whatever reactionary turn the mainstream media claims came after irony, the fate of the aging hipster offered by The Comedy must seem like a karmic kick in the pants. As Alverson knows, this is good fodder for social satire. One old, fat hipster may be heartbreaking, but a whole school of old, fat hipsters cycling over the Brooklyn Bridge, sweating bullets, is kind of funny.
I suspect that the twilight of hipsterdom struck a more alarming chord with the audience that packed the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Rose Theater for the film's East Coast premiere than it did with the après-skiers that descended upon Sundance last January. Heidecker and Alverson w...read more