19th September 1200 2.44pm at Hackney Picturehouse
19th September 6300 2.44pm at ICA Cinema
The fourth feature from US indie director Rick Averson, Entertainment is a darkly funny, disturbing, existential anti-comedy sure to garner a cult following. Australian-born entertainer Greg Turkington shines in the leading role, bringing his real-life alter ego Neil Hamburger to the screen as a hapless travelling stand-up; his performance is sublime, the jewel in a crown that is perfect in almost every other conceivable way.
Journeying across an apocalyptic US landscape with his devastatingly unfunny act, Turkington’s nameless comedian is a sweaty, phlegmy and completely pitiful middle-aged disaster, with no shortage of terrible “what do you call” and “why did the” gags up his tacky tuxedo sleeves. A series of sorry venues provide the stage for his quest into the realms of anti-humour, the first of which is a desert-based prison. The comedian is no Johnny Cash to be sure, but the inmates give perhaps the warmest reception of all his subsequent audiences. Aside from the odd pity laugh or two, the crowds are fairly unforgiving, though hecklers are dealt with brutally via vulgar put-downs.
Night after night, the comedian drinks himself into a stupor in sterile and repetitive hotel rooms, filling his days with tourist trips to bleak attractions, including a particularly desolate aeroplane graveyard. Clearly this is a man who wants to try to seize some kind of life, but is fighting a loosing battle. His character is juxtaposed with his accompanying warm-up act, an equally appalling clown-of-sorts, whose youth allows him to still live with vitality and joy despite the banal nature of his work. The narrative is punctuated with painful conversations between the comedian and his apparently estranged daughter’s answering machine, multiplying tenfold the desolation of his situation.
Averson’s use of colour to explore the comedian’s state of mind, as well as his stunning utilisation of sound, are particularly commendable, but these are just two aspects of an elaborate network of devices that guarantee layer upon layer of intrigue. Entertainment is a constant marriage between contending concepts; it is both funny and desolate, emotional but cold, the “hero” both supremely hateable and heart-wrenching, excruciatingly unwatchable yet mesmerising, all at the same time. From start to end, the audience are appallingly, indecently entertained – an uncomfortable reality but an inescapable one.
Entertainment does not have a UK release date yet. It is part of the Dare competition at the 59th London Film Festival.
Watch the trailer for Entertainment here: