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Entertainment (2015)

Thursday 21 January 2016, by Ryan Ormonde

The ironically-titled Entertainment plays hard on the expectation that a cinema audience requires something redeeming in its anti-heroes. The film is an extension of Greg Turkington’s stand-up-as-performance-art project ’Neil Hamburger’, a greasy peddler of puerile one-liners and vile, hateful patter (Turkington co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Heidecker and director Rick Alverson). In Entertainment, a fictionalised version of Turkington is presented so that his Neil Hamburger persona is able to fulfil its monstrous potential, rasping and seething beneath Turkington’s non-responsive exterior.

An unremittingly beige expanse of Californian desert is the backdrop to the touring comedian’s off stage encounters. On-stage, his routines are controlled studies in anti-entertainment, the Neil Hamburger character authoring responses to his performing environment that are designed to be as excruciating as possible, whether he finds himself in a backwater drinking hole or at a swish private party. Lines are blurred between character and performer and between the audience of the film and the audiences depicted within the film.

If this were a Borat-style mock-doc it would be easier to receive (and possibly to dismiss) as a clever twisting of American norms. Entertainment is more challenging. It’s unclear where the joke is, if anywhere. Although the world is shown through the comedian’s eyes, it is impossible to be entirely sympathetic to his continuing lack of response and lack of respect to those around him. Other isolated souls are presented; the overarching mood is hopelessness and stagnation. John C Reilly shines in a more sociable role which only serves to establish the recalcitrance of the lead character.

Ambiguous in message (if unswerving in tone), the clear success of Entertainment is to hammer out all that is agreeable in the movie lead archetype including any of its loftier, art house variants. A hateful hero is one thing, but here we are faced with the uneasy prospect of a monster who is pathetically human and not at all redeemed by its humanity.

Dir. Rick Alverson, USA 2015

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