Simply put, “The Comedy” is essential viewing because it’s an important reminder of the power of film to move you in ways that go beyond being entertained, feeling vindicated, or finding comfort. In an age when mainstream movies are geared towards leveraging audience nostalgia, meeting fan expectations, and generally reinforcing existing viewpoints, Rick Alverson’s film is a crucial reminder of art’s singular power to challenge and subvert.
The director doesn’t want you to come away from “The Comedy” feeling comfortable in any form. Andy Kaufman — soon to be the subject of a Safdie Brothers documentary — once said, “I just want real reactions. I want people to laugh from the gut, be sad from the gut, or get angry from the gut.” In other words, he wanted his creativity to spark genuine emotion in his audience. With “The Comedy,” Alverson taps into that most important and often overlooked function of art by presenting something truly unsettling that should leave you feeling deeply moved long after its 90 minutes are up. And by “moved,” I don’t mean overcome with emotion, but perturbed or unmoored in some unshakable way.
“The Comedy” is an attempt to explore a specific kind of 21st-century cultural malaise and ennui. But it’s also an attempt to undermine what you expect from a movie. There is no conventional narrative, and that’s the challenge Alverson is setting his audience. Not simply testing you to see if you’ll make it through the runtime without the aid of a familiar structure, but whether you can reflect on your own desire for that kind of hand-holding, and what that says about the state of filmmaking and art generally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a certain, very vocal, segment of audiences didn’t care for Alverson’s methods.