Entertainment (Rick Alverson, 2015)

entertainment_0Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. This review is by Vancouver-based critic Neil Bahadur.

Rick Alverson’s new film Entertainment, isn’t perfect. At first, I didn’t know if I’d even call it great. If not for Neil Hamburger’s humor, the first hour of the film would feel endlessly repetitive and banal, situations reiterating themselves with seeming meaninglessness, mimicking The Comedian’s situation which repeats itself in a series of dive-bars, where he is only greeted with disappointment and indifference. Not for nothing is the only place where Hamburger elicits a response a prison. Self-defeat rules this comedian’s life, and so too the film; it seems humor itself is the only defense mechanism left before falling into the void of cynicism and despair. Alverson’s distance is disconcerting at first: as Phil Coldiron alluded to in his review, Alverson has an Antonioni-esque spacial awareness. But perhaps this is necessary to make distinct the difference between Hamburger the performer, and Turkington the actor. Yet both are very similar: Turkington attempts twice to connect to his daughter and fails, Hamburger attempts several times to connect to an audience and fails. Hamburger doesn’t use these life-disappointments as fodder for material, he rather vomits out mad, belligerent nonsense (admittedly for me, often quite amusing) But for all these lapses of humor, I was ready to give up on the film. “OH great, another movie about like, alienation or something and some shitty guy being an asshole.” There’s even an impossibly obvious shot where our comedian walks around in circles. But then Turkington/Hamburger has to face repercussions for his actions, and suddenly the film takes a sharp, unexpected turn into something far more abstract, forcing me to re-evaluate something I was about to write-off. It became clear that Hamburger/Turkington is on a sort of pilgrimage, a hellish progression from self-consciousness to self-awareness.

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