Ed (Edward Hogg) is in his early 30s, a northerner who’s been living in London for a decade and is hoping to make it big as a comedian. However few people seem to laugh at his jokes, with a compere describing his act as ‘interesting’ rather than funny.
Outside comedy he’s stuck in a phone call centre job he hates and has a slightly dysfunctional relationship with his flatmate, who’s in love with him even though he’s gay. After striking up a conversation with a man (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) on a bus, they start a relationship, which begins to highlight the ennui and sadness at the heart of Ed’s life.
The Comedian is a rather difficult movie as its improvised, slice-of-life nature gives it the edge of truth, but its rather slippery so that it’s often difficult to grasp exactly what the film is and what it’s trying to get at. Indeed, there’s a decent chance it’s not fully trying to get at anything, due to director Tom Shkolnik’s ‘rules’ that he made the film by.
This rather ‘Dogme ‘95’ set of 10 edicts included that only one take was allowed of each scene, everything had to be improvised and the movie was created day-by-day rather than to a pre-existing template (you can see all the rules on the DVD). It’s certainly an interesting idea, but also probably why it’s a difficult movie to hold onto, as every time it seems like it’s starting to resolve itself into something, it goes off down another avenue. It’s presumably why the likes of Mike Leigh may spend a lot of time improvising his films with his actors, but by the time it goes in front of the cameras there’s an extensive plan so he knows exactly what the film is, even if it doesn’t have a traditional script.
It’s odd really as The Comedian is probably closer to the truth of life, which doesn’t have neat narratives where everything adds together to create some meaning. It’s a film trying to negotiate the ennui and rootlessness many 30-somethings feel. Normally movies about characters feeling lost and depressed try to find meaning in that – i.e. the film has meaning even if the characters feel they lack it – but with The Comedian it seems like they’re trying to make a film that feels like the main character – wanting something to hang onto but simultaneously avoiding that.
It is a character study of a man who has lost himself – and for a bit of pop psychology I’d say he’s suffering from low grade depression – resulting in him pulling people close as he wants love, yet pushing them away out of fear of being hurt (or just because he can be a bit of a dick), as well having a very selfish streak and simply not knowing what the hell he does want. Even his sexuality becomes more fluid when he’s in need of validation and connection, irrespective of what that does to the other person.
The Comedian is certainly an interesting film, even if many will find it difficult to hang onto and lacking in incident. There are a lot who will simply find it dull and pointless, but those who don’t mind working at a movie and allowing it to percolate in their brain will find it a rewarding experience. To be honest, I kind of hope Shkolnik ditches his ‘rules’, as I think they’re more an interesting idea than something that’s likely to truly lead to a great film. Here they made something fairly interesting – thanks to a very capable cast – but I feel that’s the best we can expect of them.
Overall Verdict: A slippery if interesting film that echoes its main character by never fully finding what it is. It’s a character study that feels like it’s getting towards a verisimilitude of the isolated lack of meaning many feel in their lives – whether gay or straight – even if it never gets very deep into it.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac