There is a perversity to the title of Rick Alverson’s new film. The ironically named “Entertainment” isn’t, as the title would imply, an all-singing-all-dancing extravaganza or, despite having a comedian as a central character, a funny look at life. Instead it is a grim-faced portrait of a man staring into the abyss.
Gregg Turkington is playing an amplified version of his onstage comedic persona, Neil Hamburger. With a comb over that makes Donald Trump look like the model of follicular restraint, a hacking cough that punctuates his ‘jokes’ and an abrasive attitude he’s Don Rickles on steroids. On tour in the California desert, playing a series of dive bars and prisons he’s slowly working his way to reunite with his estranged daughter. He’s a broken man who briefly stays with his cousin (John C. Reilly) and is in danger of drinking himself to death.
Not exactly a barrel of laughs but one of the most original and uncompromising movies to come along in some time. Alverson’s film is as volatile and surreal as its main character which makes for an unsettling cinematic experience. Is it enjoyable? Not exactly, but it does what good movies should do, it challenges the viewer. A study in the mundane “Entertainment” is a story about isolation and anonymity that takes its time, giving the audience time to ponder the emptiness in the Comedian’s life… and maybe even their own. It’s an existential drama perhaps best suited for fans of Franz Kafka.