If you’re paying attention to the comedy that comes out today, you’ll notice the genre has gotten pretty weird.
And how could it not? Comedy has always survived by standing an arm’s-length distance away from reality, which itself has become so sensational that it plays like surrealist theater. Thus, comedy has had to move ever-nearer into absurdism, where heady wit reigns king.
This generation’s comedy nerds, fringe-group geeks of too-cool tastemakers that eschew normalcy and dare you not to laugh at their impossible wit on display, are not unlike the Salon artists of post-realism Paris, who previously pissed off their predecessors for seemingly disrespecting the craft by dismantling the art from itself in the great pursuit of revealing the meaning behind it. Both camps revel in showcasing a dear cleverness and irony, which in both cases, is held as the highest currencies to the art forms, respectively.
In the age of the internet, there are collectives of alt-comics who have further developed a cool-kids language for the new school comedy scene – and among them are a pretty talented group of folks called JASH. As stated by their YouTube page, “JASH is a comedy collective featuring original content by partners Michael Cera, Tim & Eric, Sarah Silverman and Reggie Watts with additional contributions from their many friends.” Under this no-meaning-moniker, it’s all wacky and weird short films and other video content that circumvents conventional short films.
One such filmmaker of the JASH family (a previous short being “Gregory Go Boom” in which Michael Cera stars as a suicidal paraplegic) is writer and director Janicza Bravo, whose first feature film Lemon premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as well as in Los Angeles at this year’s NEXT FEST.
The self-staged seriousness of one man’s spiral-diving life has enough fun by a host of comedians (Jon Daly and Jeff Garland also cameo) – if neurosis-obsessed humor is your thing.
Lemon has been getting reviewed as a cringe-inducing comedy, which is exactly what writer and director Janicza Bravo would like. Making her feature film debut, Lemon is the story of sad-sack Isaac (Brett Gelman, Bravo’s real-life partner), a struggling L.A. actor whose life begins to slowly unravel when his girlfriend of ten years Ramona (Judy Greer) decides to leave him. The break-up is more or less the driving center of this absurdist comedy, of which a number of other nonsensical and low-stakes events orbit around. Some instances include amateurish theater scenes in which Isaac workshops Chekhov’s “The Seagull” with two self-serious actors (Michael Cera and Gillian Jacobs) as well as celebrating Passover with his pregnant sister (Shiri Appleby) and quirky parents (Fred Melamed and Rhea Perlman).
All of the characters in Lemon suffer from the same flaw, either too confused or unable to read the emotional needs of their partners or own needs, which mirrors the way in which this generation has lost touch with basic connection to others, as well as our own self-serving needs, and unable to navigate these pithy life moments (which makes for fun, and these comedians’ composure never cracks).
The movie is intentionally disjointed, disposing of each scene quickly when it’s over. When the second act of Passover ends and we cut right back to Isaac in L.A., who has now met Cleo, a woman of interest (Nia Long), and takes to meeting her family (where the film more or less fizzles out). When “Lemon” inevitably finishes with poop comedy (Isaac not even thinking twice to fish a flung phone out of an excrement-filled toilet), the dumb humor only serves to remind you that nothing is meant to be precious.
While it’s all utter nonsense, Lemon is still delightful and fun throughout its relatively short eighty-three-minute run-time. The self-staged seriousness of one man’s spiral-diving life has enough fun by a host of comedians (Jon Daly and Jeff Garland also cameo) – if neurosis-obsessed humor is your thing. Lemon both challenges its audience to keep up with it as much as it does lazily move from beginning to end, a tension that remains in tact from beginning to end. If you want to see a movie that may make you as uncomfortable as it does make you laugh, and if you like your comedy brainy and re-wired for the IQ as “the cool kids” would have it, Lemon will tickle you in just the right way.
83 mins. ‘Lemon’ is not rated. Opening this Friday in select theaters including the Nuart.