Entertainment – Stay Angry, Stay Foolish
Not a film that aspires to be loved, liked, or even enjoyed in the slightest – good basis for an afternoon at the cinema, right? – Rick Alverson’s disturbing Entertainment sets out to discover the two-bit comedy clubs of the American West and finds a country with far too much space on its hands. Our kind-of guide into this widescreen Antonionian world takes the form of a highly alienated Gregg Turkington, who also co-wrote Entertainment with Alverson and frequent collaborator Tim Heidecker. An eccentric performer, Turkington takes the stage – when there is one – transformed into his repulsive comic persona Neil Hamburger, he of the delirious, watered-down comb-over, dated tuxedo, and awkward, nasal delivery. (His jokes, typically skewering celebrity culture are, it can be argued, hilarious. But don’t piss him off.) In between gigs he tries in vain to contact his daughter on the phone, visits local sites of interest such as airplane graveyards, and shacks up for a few nights at the estate of his well-off cousin’s (John C. Reilly).
What starts off as a slightly off-kilter, realistic encapsulation of the rank depressions and banalities associated with a lonely life on the road transforms into angry surrealism, a series of bizarre episodes linked only by death. Alverson’s film is edited so radically that as we follow Turkington deeper into the rabbit hole, its scenes bounce up against each other with a certain amount of violence; eventually the structure devolves into something bordering on the Lynchian. The societal alienation of the performer, especially one who refuses to give the people what they want, is here a manifest expression of the filmmaker’s.