The Comedian (London Film Festival review)
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
There’s a recognizable sort of anti-charm to 30ish Londoner Ben, who’s figured out what he doesn’t want out of life — his crappy call-center job, for one — but can’t quite get it together to settle on what he does want. He’s a real-life, human-scaled, actually sympathetic version of the cartoonish manchildren Hollywood throws at us regularly, and the very appealing Edward Hogg (Anonymous) shapes him into an engaging portrait not of someone who needs to grow up, necessarily, but someone who needs to grow into the person he should be, if he can find his way through his own confused and inarticulate broad-spectrum rage. He’s trying to be a standup comic, but his material is angry, surreal, and punny, and fails to connect with club crowds just looking for a good time. His new romance with artist Nathan (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) can’t move forward because he suddenly realizes that he’s attracted to his flatmate and pal Elisa (Elisa Lasowski). Ben seems to want everything and nothing all at once, much to the consternation of the people who care about him. The improvised script, developed by the cast and director Tom Shkolnik in an auspicious debut, lends a fresh depth of honesty and intimacy — sometimes sexual, always emotional — to a story that feels familiar on the surface but has rarely been plumbed with such insight or candor. And yet for all its specificity about Ben’s life and situation, there’s a impression of the universal about it, too. Even for a film that’s all about what characters say and don’t say to one another, The Comedian’s culmination in a conversation between Ben and a cab driver is extraordinary in how it wraps up both the arbitrariness of our choices in life and the observable fact that more and more young people are taking their time in making those choices in an optimistic trust that it’ll all make sense in the end. The final line of this film is a simple, perhaps even obvious observation… yet it is still knocking around in my mind in a way the suggests that it’s something that probably needs to be said more often.
viewed during the 56th BFI London Film Festival