Monday, 4 May 2015

The Comedian (2013)

If you're coming here looking for laughs based on that title you will be sorely disappointed, because The Comedian is actually a very sombre introspective and largely improvised low-budget feature about contemporary middle class boho North London life.

This feature debut of Tom Shkolnik is a Dogme-like enterprise whose plot has been put together by both cast and crew; with the former using their own names and the latter shooting each scene in sequence on a shoestring with only one take. 

Edward Hogg who I previously knew from the interesting and underrated Bunny and the Bull plays a 32-year old failing stand up comedian and call centre wage slave Ed, the main focus to the tale. Following a disastrous gig in which his zany, strange brand of humour is met with largely stunned silence, he takes the night bus home where he meets audience member Nathan, a young black artist played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. A romantic relationship swiftly develops between the pair but Ed soon finds himself torn between this new love and his growing affection for his friend and flatmate, a French musician played by Elisa Lasowski. Fleeing the situation for some space and time to think, Ed returns home to his parents in Sheffield. 

Much of The Comedian seems to be about accepting the truth in your life; confronting the shortcomings and failures that have made you feel inferior and simply marking time in the hubbub of London life, deciding not to beat yourself up any longer and instead use them to make you stronger. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its improvisational grounding, the film is incredibly authentic and naturalistic - with one impressive though uncomfortably tense scene on a bus in which Ed and Nathan are confronted by two loathsome homophobic teenage girls, one of whom is of West Indian descent and proceeds to employ all her tremendously aggressive verbal vitriol at Nathan specifically  - but unlike some truly great examples of the improvised form on film (John Cassavetes and of course, though to a lesser extent given that his stuff is fully formed before the camera rolls, my own favourite Mike Leigh) The Comedian lacks the genuine meaning, detail and shape that its subject matter perhaps deserves. 

Ultimately whilst its completely admirable and impressive to see a debut that is so experimental and bold, it is regrettably something of a disappointment. As some scenes outstay their welcome and actors seem to struggle for a natural exit or a strong and acceptable line to say, you end up wishing that Shkolnik had played it a little bit safer.

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