The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"ENTERTAINMENT"

Entertainment

Entertainment is a genuine feel-bad movie. It's about a desperately unhappy person stuck in a depressing situation from which there is little way out. That man is a comedian, and yet the film is in no way funny. All of this makes the fact that I'm recommending it feel a little weird. Incessantly downbeat though it may be, Entertainment nonetheless offers some genuine insight into its subject matter. Coupled with an astonishing central performance, it is a work that continually fascinates, even as it makes you yearn for some glimmer of hope.

Gregg Turkington plays “the Comedian,” a minimally talented stand-up who puts on an ill-fitting tuxedo and slicks his hair into a bad comb-over to perform as his alter ego, “Neil Hamburger.” Neil's set is filled with bizarre, vaguely homophobic and sexist jokes, usually told in the form of a question. (“What do you get when you cross Sir Elton John with a sabre-toothed tiger? I don't know, but you better keep it away from your ass.”) The Comedian is booked into the lowest of the low-rent gigs: prisons, near-empty bars in the middle of nowhere, etc. His opening act is a mime (Tye Sheridan) who jumps around the stage with no visible rhyme or reason. It's a miserable existence, and the Comedian spends his days touring local attractions that hold no interest, or leaving voice mail messages for his daughter, who never seems to pick up the phone.

There really is no plot to Entertainment. The film is merely an examination of the Comedian's life, as he wanders around in a depression, hoping for some kind of break that will improve his situation. He briefly reconnects with the cousin (John C. Reilly) who pretends to understand his jokes, meets a young hustler (Michael Cera), and has a restroom encounter with a woman (Amy Seimetz) that would probably alarm anyone with a little more mental acuity. The only time the Comedian ever really comes alive is when Neil is heckled. Suddenly, all his pent-up hostility comes gushing out in a torrent of insults, profanity, and flat-out lecturing. He responds to the heckling in character, but we know it's not really Neil doing the talking.

So what's the purpose of all this? Directed by Rick Alverson, Entertainment examines the idea that comedy – and perhaps entertainment in general – has its roots in pain. The best, most successful artists and performers figure out how to shape that into something that engages an audience. The least successful flounder for a way to express themselves and are left unable to make their creativity connect with others. Not a lot of overt things happen in Entertainment, and large chunks of it entail the Comedian forlornly stumbling through life, yet it paints such a detailed picture of the character's struggle to get a positive reaction from people that you can't help but become hypnotized by his plight. When he scolds unappreciative audiences, he does so by reminding them that he's “come a long way” just to provide them with a laugh. When your main goal in life fails to be realized, what do you do? That's the question he's repeatedly faced with.

Entertainment greatly benefits from Gregg Turkington's amazing performance. The actor, who has appeared as Neil Hamburger for years in real life, brings enormous authenticity to the role. The Comedian is kind of a loser, and he's essentially deluding himself into thinking that he is sufficiently funny to ever hit the big time, but then again, that's kind of the point. This is a human tragedy unfolding before us, and Turkington makes its impact palpable.

Perhaps obviously, this is not a movie for every taste. There's something adventurous about it, though, and that makes it noteworthy. Entertainment suggests that the very act of trying to entertain people is fraught with peril. If you're up to the task, the rewards are great. If not, the consequences are crushing. Even as the movie is intentionally bombarding you with awkwardness, it's got some real wisdom on that count.

( out of four)


Entertainment is rated R for language, crude sexual material, a disturbing image and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.


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