'The Comedian' is not a funny film. Not really. But director Tom Shkolnik’s debut feature is a masterful character study of people lost in a city that doesn’t care. The film follows thirty-something Ed, who has lived in London for around 10 years, trying to make a career out of his woeful stand-up performances while paying the rent by working at a call centre. After a particularly terrible gig he meets Nathan on a bus home, and the pair begin a relationship.
But as the feelings between Ed (Edward Hogg, seen in 'Imagine' and TV’s 'Misfits') and Nathan (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, also from 'Misfits' and 'Utopia') intensify, Ed’s life begins to unravel. He quits his job and his brother-sister bond with his flatmate, Elisa (Elisa Lasowski), takes on a more amorous nature.
The writer Samuel Johnson told us that any man tired of London is tired of life, but the academic didn’t live in the same city occupied by the capital’s working classes, just as Ed, Nathan and Elisa don’t exist in the London usually shown on screen. Shkolnik has stated that one of his aims was “to make a film about a London that I could recognise”, and he does so admirably in 'The Comedian'.
There’s not a Big Ben in sight as we delve into the cold backstreets of estates and follow the characters on their way home after a drunken night out, stuffing down burgers and making small talk. The palette is all chilly blues by day and murky browns and blacks by night as Shkolnik and director of photography Benjamin Kracun paint the callous winter of the capital, which scratches and bites at the characters, huddled up inside thick coats.
It is a film about the thousands of people who come to the capital in search of a better life; one they are still waiting to start. This theme is brought to life brilliantly through the impeccable acting of the three main actors. Ed is fuelled by anger at the way his life is going. He positively rages at the comedy club crowds, daring them to laugh, and throws water over his boss as he quits.
However, Ed is also compassionate and caring, with tender scenes between him and Nathan and him and Elisa. The latter two are also sympathetically drawn by the actors. In probably the film’s most powerful scene, a black girl chastises Nathan for being a gay black man, and his reaction makes us feel the frustration of being an outsider of every group in society.
Elisa is touchingly portrayed by Lasowski, a talented musician looking for love whose hopes always fall short of reality. The trio’s interactions, and the other characters in the film, perhaps echo truer thanks to the amount of improvisation involved.
Each scene was shot in just one take, in real locations, but perhaps the most astonishing aspect is that the film was invented day by day: no-one knew what was going to happen in the next scene, and would just see where their feelings and conversations took them. This approach makes the film unnervingly convincing, a fiction loosely stitched to the skin of real life, and seeing each scene blossom from the last it is hard to believe just how well this method has worked.
But it may also be culpable for the film’s lack of a conclusion of sorts. The 80-minute movie (cut down from a six-hour first cut) leaves you hopeful, but without really seeing any of the characters take any control over their lives. But maybe that’s the point: there are no neat and tidy conclusions for the majority of us. Relationships flourish and peter out; dreams, such airy things, suffocate under the weight of making do and getting by. Eventually, life gets in the way of living.
'The Comedian' is on limited release in UK cinemas from tomorrow, through Trinity Film.