The Bitter Buddha: Film Review

This loving portrait of the angst-ridden comedian should well lift his profile.

This loving portrait of the angst-ridden comedian Eddie Pepitone should well lift his profile.

Every little-known stand-up comedian should have as stellar a showcase as The Bitter Buddha, Steven Feinartz’s loving documentary profiling the 54-year-old “comic’s comic” Eddie Pepitone. Delivering his raspy comic diatribes fueled by a rage directed both inwardly and outwardly, the comedian--whose big belly and bald pate makes his nickname seem apt--should see his star rise as a result of this cinematic mash note.

Peptitone, who’s been plying his trade for more than three decades, has achieved greater prominence in recent years thanks to his frequent appearances on Marc Maron’s popular podcasts. The two men are clearly kindred spirits, as evidenced by their frequent interactions seen here, including a hilarious off-the-cuff conversation about the complexities of navigating internet porn.

A gallery of famous comedians is on hand to sing Pepitone’s praises, including Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt, the latter commenting, “He’s the Charles Bukowski of comedy, only replace alcohol with Nutter Butter."

As it happens, Pepitone is now clean and sober, a lifestyle choice he explains by saying that “I just want to be conscious for the horror."

He’s also, for all the anger expressed in his stand-up routines, apparently a sweet soul, as evidenced by his adoration for his many pet cats, his fondness for listening to audio tapes of Ekhart Tolle and his habit of feeding squirrels in the park.

“Does he do it angrily?” asks Oswalt with a smirk.

There’s little structure to the film, which essentially follows the comedian around as he goes through his daily routines while offering frequent commentary about his addiction-plagued life and a career that has stubbornly resisted mainstream success. Some drama is supplied by his nervousness over an impending headlining gig at NYC’s Gotham Comedy Club, his first-ever in his home town, and whether or not his irascible father will bother to make the trek from Staten Island to attend.

Although the lack of a narrative structure eventually proves frustrating, Pepitone is such an engaging, funny figure that he manages to give the proceedings a firm anchor. The unique blend of angst and humor that fuels his personality is beautifully encapsulated in the film’s closing moments, when he muses about never having had children and the fact that he’s devoted his life entirely to his career.

“Is that sad?” he asks. “I think it is,” he answers while breaking into hysterical laughter.

Opened March 8 (Cheremoya Films)
Production: Syndctd Enterainment
Director: Steven Feinartz
Producers: Steven Feinartz, Mikki Rosenberg
Executive producers: Neil Bagg, Christine O’Malley, Brad Rutter, Daniel Smekhov, Spencer Willis
Directors of photography: Danny Garcia, Alex Sax
Editors: Steven Feinartz, Dan Russell

No rating, 91 min.