Directed by Rick Alverson
Set in the Mojave Desert, the film follows a broken-down comedian playing clubs across the Southwest, working his way to Los Angeles to meet his estranged daughter.
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★★★★½ review by Cindy T on Letterboxd
Rick Alverson’s Entertainment is a film that is sure to divide viewers. Its nameless antihero (Gregg Turkington) is a character that will turn off many viewers. However, if you’re like me, a lover of mutts and misfits, you will find him to be a sympathetic character whose loneliness and sadness affects you.
Entertainment is an anti-road trip story about The Comedian (Turkington), who travels the lonely roads of the Mojave Desert in California performing his comedy act in depressing venues, including a prison, a roadside show, and dive bars. The story is an anti-road trip one because he loses himself instead of finds himself on the trip.
The Comedian’s only companion is Eddie (Tye Sheridan), a young man who performs a vulgar mime and clown act at the same venues as The Comedian performs. Eddie is a character that represents a performer with potential and a possible bright future, which is the opposite of The Comedian, whose career has hit bottom and whose age will make it difficult for him to achieve success. With each act The Comedian performs and the negative audience reception he is subjected to, we witness him fall deeper into despair because it is clear that he will never achieve the success he dreams of. How American utopianism, or the American dream, destroys people is what Alverson’s film examines.
Entertainment is largely episodic, featuring many scenes in which The Comedian encounters strangers while traveling and performing. Two public bathroom encounters—one in which he is approached by a hustler (Michael Cera) and one in which he finds a pregnant woman in labor on the floor—are unsettling. They point to how strange The Comedian’s life is, but also show how decent a man he actually is, which is a contrast to the obnoxious, comedic personality he adopts on stage. His decency is also on display when he calls and leaves loving voicemail messages for his daughter, who never answers his calls or replies to his messages. The daughter’s rejection of her father makes The Comedian’s life sadder and lonelier in our eyes and his failures on stage more pathetic. Other scenes of The Comedian catching up with a wealthy relative (John C. Reilly) serve to comment on how success does not always provide happiness.
DP Lorenzo Hagerman, who shot the excellent Heli, effectively uses a lot of wide shots to emphasize The Comedian’s isolation. Hagerman’s desert images are particularly impressive. Also worth noting is the music featured throughout the film. Alverson is a musician as well as a filmmaker, and his musical choices are stellar. I have not been so impressed with music in a film in a very long time.
I liked Entertainment when I saw it, but thinking and writing about it now makes me wonder if Alverson might have made a masterpiece or near-masterpiece. His film is a deeply thought-provoking work. The Comedian’s story resonated with me because as I get older, I find it more difficult to feel successful in the traditional American dream sense. I’m often questioning the definition of success.
My younger friends with whom I saw the film did not appreciate or relate to the film like I did. My friends commented that they kept checking their watches throughout the film. They struggled with the film’s pace and Alverson’s storytelling style (Alverson focuses more on establishing tone than providing a straightforward narrative). I think Entertainment might be best appreciated by a mature audience.
★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
Nobody but Turkington could have pulled this off.
Or should I say Neil Hamburger.
★★★★ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
ENTERTAINMENT confirms that Rick Alverson is one of the most vital and necessary filmmakers in American indie cinema.
MY FULL REVIEW ON LITTLE WHITE LIES: www.littlewhitelies.co.uk/features/articles/sundance-2015-entertainment-29059
★★★★½ review by sprizzle on Letterboxd
We are in the mojave. The light is washed out, desaturated to the point of turning Greg Turknington white like a ghost. Wind chimes play crystal tunes and hang somewhere just off screen. The stage is set and Neil Hamburger walks out.
Comedians set off into the desert to make art. I love this group of filmmakers. Pushing comedy past the point of being funny. This movie has no place being called a dark comedy. Black comedy doesn't even really get there. The setting should give you a good visual of the tone. Sparse. Outlook on life for this traveling comedian isn't looking great. We follow him on a slow path across the west into Los Angeles. Swinging into dive bars with half filled rooms. Stopping along the way to watch Mexican soap operas. Entertainment is a ride you'll only get from Rick Alverson.
Alverson's last two films have felt like a movement all their own. Heavily influenced by the people he surrounds himself with e.g. Tim Heidecker, Greg Turkington, John C. Reilly, etc. Of course there's a whole lot of dark indie comedies that come out every year but his feel different. They feel much more important. I think they are more interested in making something beautiful than they are in making people laugh, and Entertainment is exactly that. While there are laughs scattered throughout, this is more of a tragedy. Neil Hamburger is a hopeless romantic, in love with the road and the business but unable to express himself offstage. There is a fight that wages under the surface of this movie, only allowed out in brief flashes, flashes that will keep you up at night.
It's another step forward for this incredible group of filmmakers. Adding a layer of depth to his last outing, a layer of color. I might come back and re-consider this opinion in the future but right now I'm in love with it. Possibly Alverson's masterpiece.
★★★★ review by Blain LaMotta on Letterboxd
I don't know about anyone else, but I found The Comedian's stand-up routines in this to be painfully hysterical. The way he shifts into another persona to momentarily escape from his lonely, soul crushingly banal existence, only for that persona to negatively protrude on his original reality becomes an almost cosmic joke of Biblical proportions. There really is no retreating from your own mind in this vast wasteland we call life. Wherever you go, you always run into a reminder of what you are running from. Even when The Comedian goes to sleep, his subconscious offers no respite, but only more suffering. So what does The Comedian do when he can't take it anymore? He resorts to the only thing he knows deep down that can make sense of his everlasting burden of despair: to laugh at himself.
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