Monday, November 09, 2015

“Entertainment”– Movie Review



On the closing night of The Film Society Of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films series this past Spring, I saw the drama “Entertainment”, directed by Rick Alverson.


While a stand-up comedian tours the southwest, he desperately tries to restore the relationship with his daughter – but will his life fall apart before he has the opportunity to do so?


Whether bars, nightclubs or prisons, Neil (Gregg Turkington) plays them all as he tours extensively throughout the Mojave Desert. Leading a lonely life on the road, he desperately tries to connect with the one person that still matters to him: his estranged daughter. Calling her each night after his set, Neil only gets her voicemail because of the time difference; despite leaving detailed messages, however, she never calls back. Disengaged from most everyone else in the world, Neil chooses to meet with a cousin, John (John C. Reilly), who lives in the area. Being a businessman, John doesn’t quite get Neil’s routine, which is really not intended for mainstream audiences in the first place.

Accompanying Neil on the tour is a teenager (Tye Sheridan) trying to break into show business as a pantomime. As his opening act, the young man tries to engage with the comedian, who remains distant; their relationship stays professional, never personal, but always cordial. One of their few times of extended interaction is when a heckler attacks the comedian after his show; the teen helps Neil locate his now-broken eyeglasses and takes him back to the motel room which they’ll share. Now playing the worst dumps which pay little (if at all), it seems Neil’s career as a comedian is just about over.

Finally, some small ray of hope comes when the comedian is offered a job in Hollywood; he accepts a gig playing a party at a Hollywood mansion to be attended by many influential show business people. Neil leaves telephone messages to his daughter that he’ll impress some of the big shot guests and wind up getting bigger and better bookings. But when the big day finally arrives, all is not well; seeing those in attendance, the comedian suddenly has a panic attack and experiences a bit of a meltdown. But will he be able to recover in time to make his performance the success he originally envisioned?


Although many of the comedy bits by Gregg Turkington (AKA Neil Hamburger) are hilariously funny (albeit in the sickest and most disturbing way imaginable), it’s not enough to save “Entertainment” from being a creepfest. An exploration into the surreal with an obnoxious protagonist for whom it is difficult (if not impossible) to root, the audience is left on a wild ride of visual non-sequiturs that seem to have no purpose other than to confound the audience, rather than to lay out an intelligible story. Clearly, it is irony for this motion picture to be titled, “Entertainment”; a more accurate title might be “Torture”.

While scenes shot in the Mojave Desert are visually arresting, they certainly don’t make “Entertainment” worth seeing. Turkington portrays his character in an almost catatonic state, suggesting he’s either permanently medicated or recently lobotomized (maybe both). Given the episodic nature of the movie, he interacts with many characters who may or may not be more interesting than he is, but they are almost certainly more animated – arguably, there may be still photographs that are more lively. His constant state of stupefaction gets on your nerves in short order.

Following the screening was an interview with director Rick Alverson.  During Alverson’s question and answer session, he took a hard-to-explain movie and somehow made it even more incomprehensible (if that’s even possible). Mumbling, using incomplete sentences that trailed off with endless ellipses, he came off about as inarticulate as his film; he did appear to like inserting the word “trope” occasionally, perhaps in an effort to present the illusion that he knew what he was doing. Nevertheless, this didn’t prevent members of the audience from at least trying to inquire about the film in the plaintive hope of getting some semblance of an answer that made sense.

Entertainment (2015) on IMDb

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