Entertainment (both an ironic and completely fitting title) is an endurance test of a movie. It tracks an unnamed comedian (Gregg Turkington) while he tours out west through the desert. His comedy routine, a slight variation on Turkington’s real stand-up character “Neil Hamburger,” is nasty and vulgar and abrasive. And so is Entertainment, sort of. When not on stage the comedian listlessly wanders or drives through the barren desert, rarely talking or smiling. The cinematography is beautiful, but is ironically contrasted with a color palette consisting almost entirely of yellows and browns. And what’s nastier than the aesthetic equivalent of poop and pee? Co-writer and director Rick Alverson favors few edits and takes that run-on just past the point of comfort. Almost every scene seems to take place in some sort of vacuum, the only narrative threads are the comedian’s own existential crisis, downward spiral, and his ever-more-desperate phone calls to his estranged daughter. All the while, discordant tones score Alverson’s images, resulting in a surrealist trance of a movie, equal parts mesmerizing, humorous, and scary.
It’s often a pretty ugly trance, but it makes for a movie that I felt more than watched. But then again, it probably has to be ugly – Entertainment seems to encapsulate the post-modern emotional wasteland that humanity has become (or at least how Alverson sees it). It’s a monstrous movie, with two particularly striking and obscene sequences testament to this. It’s also a variation on the starving artist, updated to a more modern, more emotionally barren hero – his dedication to his craft has left him soulless and impervious to empathy. I’m not sure Entertainment itself has a soul either, but it is an affecting piece of cinema that felt distinctly malleable to me personally, and although you might hate it, I think that’s pretty unique.