If David Lynch and Wim Wenders had a demented movie love child, it would look like Rick Alverson’s Entertainment. Drenched in an unsettling and oppressive tone, the film explores the numbing banality of protracted alienation through one man’s dour worldview.
Gregg Turkington, better known under his Neil Hamburger persona, stars as a lowly unnamed Comedian drifting between dive bar gigs in the California desert. He performs a verbally abusive stand-up show while cradling three identical drinks in his hands. Patrons often sit silently while the Comedian asks one offensive question after the next in an exaggerated stage voice.
The violence and aggression of the Comedian’s performances aren’t initially apparent in his day-to-day experiences. Soft spoken and demure, he rambles his way through one-sided conversations with an estranged Cousin (John C. Reilly) and another performer named Eddie The Opener (Tye Sheridan). His most verbose exchanges come while attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter over the phone.
Entertainment moves from awkward character study to a surreal vision of earthbound purgatory. As the Comedian grows more disconnected with reality it’s unclear if he actually happens upon a pregnant woman who has gone into labor at a grimy rest stop. A verbal confrontation with a strung out drifter named Tommy (Michael Cera) inside a gas station bathroom has all the qualities of a horror film. There’s also a game of Marco Polo ripped directly from your worst nightmares.
Alverson’s efficient direction and Turkington’s oddly human performance treat these ambiguous images and experiences as normal. It’s the audience that must decide whether or not they can stomach such a world where a mime defecates into a hat instead of attempting to escape a box.
Entertainment, which opens Friday, Dec. 3, at the Digital Gym Cinema, challenges our tolerance for comic absurdity by making it confrontational. At times, it’s hard to figure out whether you should be laughing, gasping or both.
A Royal Night Out: On V.E. Day in 1945, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are allowed out to join the festivities in this romantic drama. Opens Friday, Dec. 4, at the Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas.
Chi-raq: Spike Lee’s latest controversial satire takes place in urban Chicago, where gun violence has become an epidemic.
Entertainment: A lowly travelling comedian roams the California desert performing at dive bars while descending deeper into a state of psychosis. Screens through Thursday, Dec. 9, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Flowers: A young woman trapped in a loveless marriage begins to receive bouquets of flowers daily from a mysterious admirer. Opens Friday, Dec. 4, at the Reading Gaslamp Cinemas in San Diego.
Janis: Little Girl Blue: Musician Cat Power narrates this documentary about the life and death of iconic rock star Janis Joplin. Opens Friday, Dec. 4, at the Reading Gaslamp Cinemas in San Diego.
Killing Them Safely: A documentary that looks at the risks involved in the use of police Tasers, which have caused hundreds of deaths in the past two decades. Screens through Thursday, Dec. 9, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Krampus: A boy accidentally summons an evil Christmas demon after he has a terrible Holiday season.
Mediterranea: Two refugees make the dangerous trek from North Africa to Italy, then try to start a new life despite egregious economic hardships and social alienation. Screens through Thursday, Dec. 9, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Wonders: Secluded beekeepers that live in the Tuscan countryside see their lives uprooted when they are visited by a silent young boy and a reality television crew.
The World of Kanako: A troubled exdetective furiously hunts for his missing daughter in this stylish revenge thriller from Japanese director Tetsuya Nakashima. Screens through Thursday, Dec. 9, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.