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New Directors/New Films Festival: 'Entertainment'

by Photo of Theodore Liggians

Closing the New Directors/New Films Festival, ‘Entertainment’ set itself apart from the rest of the films.

New Directors/New Films Festival: 'Entertainment'

In this article…

Really showing Rick Alverson's ability to steer clear of ordinary the American indie film paradigm, Entertainment is a film made to bore you through the "what" and "why" jokes of a depressed comedian (Gregg Turkington) that treks across the Californian desert, performing a number of stalemate gigs with a young minimalist pantomime Eddie (Tye Sheridan). Through the series of painful-to-watch gigs and preparation to become The Comedian, his morale visibly deteriorates over time and parallels the desert that is often shown as he drives to his next show or visits an airplane graveyard.

As a role that Turkington has lived with as his comedic alter ego for 20 years in reality (Neil Hamburger), the role did not require much acting on his end. Wearing a cheap tuxedo and a slop of oily hair each act, it's easy to see why The Comedian cannot manage to generate laughs with phlegm filled acts and high nasal wails. Turkington's display of the repetitiveness of his act causes each set to become agonizing to sit through but successfully accomplishes making you feel as audiences in the film does. His depression and lack of life or hope redirects any empathy or feeling toward every other character that he encounters.

Purposely diverting the focus from The Comedian to his cousin John (John C. Reilly), then Michael Cera and finally a woman (Ashley Atwood) going into labor inside of a public bathroom. John did not move the film forward in any significant way although he did add the comic relief through his act of understanding his cousin's routine and ignorance toward Latin culture. Cera's awkward mien was utilized for its humorous purpose as a desperate bathroom hustler, while Atwood's role as the pregnant woman marked the last straw for The Comedian and drew sympathy for her.

Not expressing any symptoms of having a plot that goes deeper than one man's impending rupture from a declining career of low-end desert comedy shows and daily efforts to contact his estranged daughter, whose existence is never confirmed, Entertainment fails to generate any interest. The symbolism of Alverson's film is abstract but clearly exemplified by The Comedian's slow descent into a major breakdown through repetition. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is The Comedian's plight.

Q&A with Rick Alverson

To close the 44th New Directors/New Films Festival Enertainment's director Rick Alverson and Film Society of Lincoln Center's Director of Programming Dennis Lim made their way on stage to begin the final Q&A.

Lim started things off inquiring about Alverson's choice to use Neil Hamburger and the desert landscape for his film.

With his mouth concealed by a burly beard, the director explained that Hamburger actually did travel across the desert annually performing 200 shows. Alverson happened to catch one and thought Gregg Turkington's alter ego would be great for a film about a comedian that is out of his time and slowly becomes frustrated by his repetitive shows.

Opening the Q&A to the audience, Alverson was asked about his on-set conversations.

He informed that this is his fourth film but he does not have traditional rehearsals so there is less structure in the dialogue to see who he is working with. This makes things more tonal. Alverson later explained that he does no more than three takes when filming.

Eager to learn about his any upcoming projects, an audience member asked the director about what was next for Alverson.

Throwing out an unexpected answer out, Alverson revealed that his next film will include a lobotomist, new age figure skaters and hermaphrodites. "Just know they're all in the same movie," he further revealed laughing.

Taking Alverson back to a more serious manner, someone questioned him about the scene with Turkington and the woman giving birth in the bathroom.

Explaining the scene, Alverson said that it was the perfect time to show empathy through the scared face of Ashley Atwood and the reaction of Turkington. It was a necessary scene to make the film more surreal. It was that slippery moment that helped the film slip right into that space. His inspiration for the scene was an unexpected image of a man in a tuxedo holding a baby in a bathroom that came to mind one day.

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