Other than starring in the film, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have little to do with The Comedy, so thinking of it as a Tim & Eric movie would be inaccurate. Nevertheless, the feeling that The Comedy offers us basically an indie drama version of their very distinct aesthetic is nearly impossible to avoid. Director Rick Alverson and co-writers Robert Donne and Colm O'Leary take the all out war against sincerity that defines Tim & Eric and apply it to a real human being. The results are monstrous and abject, but captivating as well.
Few films have hated their main character with the fervor The Comedy holds for Tim Heidecker's Swanson. To call him disgusting doesn't quite cover it. He's an appalling man-baby. Not a man-child, mind you, but a grown infant. His fat hangs off him like the teats of some ancient overbred bitch. You can smell him through the screen. The foulness of Heidecker's body is a weapon he uses against you at every opportunity, the byproduct of a unique mixture of adult and juvenile hedonism. It's no mistake Swanson spends his first real scene eating over-miked crunchy cookies and drinking whisky. He also spends a lot of time spitting all over himself.
Swanson also uses nearly every opportunity to hurt those around them. Whether discussing the virtues of Hitler and eugenics, making fun of black people to their faces, singing songs to cab drivers about denying them a tip, ranting in a hick accent about making couches out of slave meat or sexually harassing his sister-in-law, Heidecker displays only the most sickening behavior for the moment in which he finds himself. He's like that friend who cusses in front of your mom and dunks you way longer than usual at the pool. Because of his unpredictability and disconnect from any semblance of a healthy social code, there are moments in this film - each involving women - which play out with the intensity of a horror film.
He also spends a great amount of time pretending to be other people. On several occasions, Swanson steps into occupational roles that don't belong to him in an effort to see how they fit, and adulterates them with his own misbehavior.
Like any comedian, Swanson wants to make fun of the world. But by doing so, he can't connect to any of it. Swanson interacts with others as though they were television channels he can visit, laugh at and abandon at his own pleasure and without consequence (and he truly suffers very little consequence). The Comedy displays a uniquely modern mental illness, exclusive to us because 100 years ago assholes like Swanson wouldn't have survived childhood.
It's not just Swanson, either. His group of friends point to a whole generation of aged slackers holding onto the notion that life's just a joke so hard it borders on sociopathy. For no reason except to be obnoxious, Swanson and two other pals visit a church and go way out of their way to disrupt all those around them. A party opening the film features a bunch of these guys spitting beer all over each other and wrestling naked, representing an almost Caligula level of insane revelry. They look through family picture slides not for nostalgia but because of the pornographic pictures randomly thrown in the mix.
They even participate in what would be funny jokes if their delivery weren't so ugly. Swanson and his friend Bobby (played by Neil Hamburger/Gregg Turkington. LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy is also in this film, but I have no idea who that is) go on at length about how clean hobo penises are. Getting high with a pretty girl, Swanson develops a super impressive Nick Nolte impression. A couple good moments come from the group's Casey Affleck (the guy in the group everyone makes fun of like in Good Will Hunting). Eric Wareheim's character name is Van Arman. Surely there's a joke there.
But in the context of a drama, we see the joke is on them. The people Swanson tortures will all go home and lead their relatively healthy lives. Swanson and his friends are doomed. According to the press materials, Alverson sees Swanson as someone growing increasingly reckless in pursuit of human connection. And despite such pathos signifiers as Swanson's dying father and a brother headed for the nuthouse, I call bullshit on that. The guy displayed in this film is neither looking for connection nor on any kind of dynamic trajectory. He is, was and always will be what we see here. There's no moment of clarity for Swanson. Those hoping to see Tim Heidecker display true emotion will be disappointed. There's literally no difference between his performance here and his performances on Comedy Central, save for some intended hamminess on the TV show.
The Comedy is quite sad, deeply discomforting and largely plotless. It is, however, an utterly unique film I highly recommend to fans of pitch black comedy. The film will not make you laugh and I wouldn't eat food while watching it. But it may haunt you. Extra points for those who can watch it with their moms.
(The Comedy hits a small number of theaters starting November 9th, but it can be viewed on VOD right now.)