What if the most obnoxious, least likable, anti-comfortable characters from Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! were distilled into one person, given a trust fund and dropped down into Williamsburg, Brooklyn? What if, in this stark, cold, real-life, every joke about feces and Hitler was delivered to the recipient least likely to find it amusing? And what if the guy responsible had no filter, no access to his own emotions or boundaries and no understanding of himself? Oh, you already know that guy? Me too.
Making matters more troubling, in this film that guy is played with deadpan, ruined-inside assurance by Tim Heidecker himself. As Swanson, an aimless, insincere 35-year-old, Heidecker moves from one awkward or casually blistering encounter to another, offending people and bolstering the equally ugly atmosphere created by his group of like-minded jerk friends (including Eric Wareheim and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem). He bothers his dying father's nurse with his theories on the transmission of illness through fecal matter. He badgers his mental hospital-bound brother's wife with sexual questions. He practices ironic racism with a group of African American men in a local bar. He pesters a cab driver and sexually harasses a woman they drive past before embroiling both his hapless victims in a street confrontation with one another. He gets a job washing dishes for no reason. He swills PBR. He insults a co-worker just long enough to lure her into his bed (where she has what is either a seizure or a joke's-on-you fake orgasm, it's hard to tell). He is everything nobody wants to be, his life a kind of cinematic companion piece to Ricky Gervais' bleak manager in The Office or the frustratingly difficult, no-social-cues-reading character played by Dore Mann in Ronald Bronstein's 2007 indie film Frownland. The difference? Swanson's doing it intentionally, hiding behind the assumption that he's hilarious.
Director/co-writer Rick Alverson's black light shines on the worst aspects of contemporary urban smart-assery and reveals the misanthropy, cruelty and indifference to suffering that courses through its cold veins. It's a barbed wire indictment, quietly sneaking up on you, delivering a verdict on a very specific sort of modern man, the kind who easily tosses around brutality and wraps it up in smirky jokes. And just when you think that passing judgment on awful Brooklynites is all there is on its mind, the film's action drifts toward an abrupt, ambiguous end, as Heidecker and friends find themselves watching a very personal slide show. They stare blankly, they fall asleep, they begin to register the slightest hint of the ability to feel sadness. You'll feel it, too. Unless you're like those guys already.