Tom Shkolnik's feature debut The Comedian (2012) tells the story of wannabe stand up comedian Ed (Edward Hogg) who has to contend with a mundane call centre job whilst fight feelings of intimacy for his flatmate Elisa (Elisa Lasowski) and the new blossoming relationship with Nathan (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett of E4's Misfits).
Shkolnik comes to this feature having found some recognition for his short films and his professional relationship with producer Dan McCulloch led to the success of One Happy Moment which was made for the Digital Shorts scheme and BBC Films.
The film shot over 90 hours of footage to garner this film that lasts for only 72 minutes. This may seem startling but that is down partly to the 'Rules of the Game' which include no script, only one take is allowed by two cameras at most.
Watching a film like The Comedian makes you realise why the script is just as important as any actor or director, the foundation of a narrative is imperative to any story whereas here Shkolnik is focused on showing a London that is real and indicative of the prevailing depression currently being experienced by the socio-economic population. Also that comedians do not make for the best of films due to the very internalised nature of the performer, even Scorcese and De Niro failed somewhat with The King of Comedy (1983) due to fact that Rupert Pupkin is sadly delusional
Ed hates his job, as he wants it to be fun and when he is told to buck up and improve he treats that as a threat to his existence. His career as a stand-up does not seem promising as one bad gig ends with the compere criticising him in between performers ('Some people get up on stage and talk about gardening. Others tell jokes') this is heard by us in the background whilst Ed sits backstage listening, beat up by how awful he was. Ed spends a lot of time listening, and he gives the impression he is a better listener than communicator.
There are some nicely shot moments of photography by DoP Benjamin Kracun such as when Nathan walks down the street and a whiff of cigarette smoke floats into the air, but these moments are few and far between in a film that lacks a visual style for want of trying.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett elicits the best performance of the film, adding some layers of complexity to a role that might have been thankless, but yet he makes you wonder how difficult it must be to live in a big city and be black and homosexual. The scene when they are pillored by young female homophobes on a bus journey home is quite startling and real, yet that is the only scene tinged with a real-ness about it.
Edward Hogg tries his best, and he could conceivably be a grandson of the original angry young men from up North in the 1960s with his Northern accent and self-critiquing behaviour (such as Tom Courtenay's Billy (Liar) Fisher) however, he is a confused young man who is unsure of what he wants and contradicts himself when something possible comes along, he attempts to reject it in a way that makes him seem selfless but in fact merely self-destructive.
Shkolnik states, 'I wanted to make a film about a London that I could recognise,' yet the fact you have an inter-racial homosexual relationship at the heart of the narrative and a French girl as the beautiful flatmate to this observer does not feel real but more forced unfortunately, as a way to say here is a white Northerner, a black Londoner and a foreigner as a means of ticking off the diversity checklist rather than showing London in a more real light.
The shooting of homosexual lovemaking do not match the intimacy of those in Weekend and Keep The Lights On - that showed the problematic nature of maturing a same-sex relationship in big cities far more effectively with a delicate tone and humility, the benefit those films had was a structure and fluency to the film-making process and intelligent scriptwriting.
The film may reach an audience who encourage the growth of British independent cinema, but anyone expecting a barrel of laughs will be sorely disappointed.
The Comedian is on limited release on Friday 31st May by Trinity Filmed Entertainment