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Picture Punchline, the 1988 Tom Hanks-as-a-standup comic movie as if directed by David Lynch and you’ve pretty much got the gist of Ape, an edgy if undisciplined first feature by Michigan–based filmmaker Joel Potrykus.
Acutely nailing the dysfunctional stand-up milieu both on- and off-stage, the micro-budgeted film is more a wryly-etched character sketch than an involvingly-plotted proposition, but it still manages to leave an impression thanks to Joshua Burge’s convincingly-inhabited lead performance.
A double prize-winner at the Locarno Film Festival en route to the AFI Fest, Ape concerns itself with the day-to-day life of Trevor Newandyke (Burge), a loner slacker of a struggling stand-up comic and part-time pyromaniac.
When not whiling away the hours running riffs in his tiny apartment or burning stuff (flash paper, powdered coffee creamer, Molotov cocktails), Trevor takes to the stage of the gloomy comedy club where he usually bombs.
Then one fateful day he makes a deal with the devil, trading an old joke for a green apple which when ingested hastens Trevor along his fully-anticipated, existential descent into madness.
Given the details surrounding Newandyke’s would-be profession, it’s clear that Potrykus is coming from an autobiographical place — one populated by indifferent club managers and tone-deaf comics who keep feverishly plugging away against the fake brick backdrops despite the ridiculously insurmountable odds.
While the process can often be painful to watch for reasons that have as much to do with the filmmaker’s aversion to structure as Trevor’s act, Burge, who resembles a young Steve Buscemi, still makes you care thanks to a scrappily charismatic turn that is alternately pathetic and oddly affecting.
Venue: AFI Fest (Young Americans)
Production companies: Sob Noisse Movies
Cast: Joshua Burge, Gary Bosek, Daniel Falicki, Jason Roth, Gary Perrine
Director-screenwriter: Joel Potrykus
Executive producer: Kevin Clancy
Producer: Joel Potrykus
Director of photography: Joel Potrykus
Editor: Joel Potrykus
No MPAA Rating, 86 minutes
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