“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west,” goes a song by Led Zeppelin. In Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, that feeling is dread. And the stairway to heaven is showbiz. The movie follows a less-than-minor comedian (Gregg Turkington) across less-than-minor venues with minor crowds in minor cities in California. His shtick consists of wearing a tacky suit and oversized glasses, setting his hair into a slimy comb-over, and then, in between guttural hacks, nasally reciting jokes like, “Why does E.T., The Extraterrestrial, love Reese’s Pieces so much? Because they have the same flavor that [semen] does on his home planet!” Alverson juxtaposes scenes of personal failure with widescreen vistas of sprawling cactus deserts and a black tar road that looks like an unspooled cassette tape. Even as the pervasive score spreads a sense of Lynchian creepiness, deadpan is the mode of storytelling in Entertainment: Whether he’s just delivered a baby in a public bathroom, or playing Marco Polo with drugged-up trailer people, Turkington’s comedian retains his impassivity. Exploring alienation and loneliness in a mythic quest to achieve success, Entertainment is a counterpoint to Wim Wenders’s sentimental existential westerns like Paris, Texas; Alverson’s existentialism is cynical and acerbic—it doesn’t uplift or entertain.
In American English & Spanish.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White