Review first published by EyeforFilm.
“Did anything happen?”
“No, not really.”
“Yeah, nothing’s happened… Nothing has happened.”
This exchange between 32-year-old Ed (Edward Hogg) and his 25-year-old boyfriend Nathan (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) encapsulates the spirit of The Comedian, while perhaps also pinpointing what some will find problematic about the film. Ed’s non-committal responses to Nathan’s questioning perfectly characterise his supine, evasive nature. “Do something!” an exasperated Nathan will say shortly afterwards, “You can’t make a decision!” – and indeed Ed’s inaction will dominate The Comedian, frustrating viewers along with Nathan.
Ed neither enjoys, nor carries out well, his work at a call centre for cancer insurance – but he cannot bring himself either to improve his act or to quit. He keeps stringing along his adoring Spanish flatmate Elisa (Elisa Lasowski) in a relationship that can never go anywhere, even after he has begun a passionate affair with artist Nathan. When Nathan and he are subjected on a nightbus to a vicious homophobic diatribe, Ed fails to speak out, even though he knows of the very literal scars that Nathan bears from a previous similar incident. And Ed is also a part-time comedian on the club circuit with an on-stage schtick, pitched aggressively between Milton Jones and Simon Munnery, that is increasingly falling flat.
In short, Ed is a stand-up seemingly incapable of standing up for anything. Though unhappy with his present circumstances, he is unwilling to do anything about them, leaving it to those around him, or just to the forces of entropy, to foist change upon him. It is precisely Ed’s inertia that makes The Comedian more a sketch than a film of action – and when things do happen, it is almost in spite of the protagonist.
When the climactic scene is an introspective conversation with a London cabbie, you just know that this film will be dismissed by many as one in which “nothing has happened.” Yet over the course of a brief 80-minute duration, we see Ed lose everything to his own hesitancy and lack of direction, in a pre-mid-life crisis that will be painfully familiar to many a thirtysomething in the audience.
The observational naturalism that writer/director Tom Shkolnik brings to his first feature emerges in part from his unusual production methodology: workshopping the script from his cast’s improvisations, insisting on only one take (with two cameras) per scene, and shooting only in actual London locations. Even Ed’s comedy gigs and Elisa’s acoustic acts were performed in real clubs before uninvited, undirected audiences. The rest is down to the actors, who retain their own forenames for their characters, and bring a tangible conviction to all the narrative drifting.
When the cabbie tells Ed, “You know you’re gonna be alright,” Ed answers with a subdued, “Yep” – but even this positive affirmation is tinged with the equivocation of everything that Ed says and does, leaving us, like him, caught in a limbo where the future may equally turn out happy or bleak – but either way, with little real input from our feckless antihero. It is an understated message for a diffident, aimless generation – and an impressive first film from a director happy to daze rather than amaze.