Punching the Clown
Directed by Gregori Viens
Starring Henry Phillips, Ellen Ratner, Matthew Walker and Audrey Siegel
It’s easy to see how “Punching the Clown,” an amiable satire about L.A.’s vacuous showbiz types, won the Audience Award at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival, Park City, Utah’s annual alternative to Sundance.
The low-fi comedy of errors, with humor centered on awkward “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-type social faux pas and verbal puns, tells the semi-biographical tale of real-life singer-songwriter Henry Phillips’ misadventures in Hollywood (he plays himself).
A talented performer of satirical folk songs (think Tenacious D), the real Phillips has developed a popular comedy act. The movie Phillips, however, heads to California as a last-ditch attempt to make it after an unsuccessful career on the road.
Out west, he finds the glamorous life is not what it seems. Crashing on the couch of his failed actor brother (Matthew Walker) while coping with an inept agent (Ellen Ratner) and the general attitudes of industry folk who want nothing to do with him, Henry struggles to get his music heard.
With a sharp script (which Phillips co-wrote with Gregori Viens) well attuned to La-La Land’s general dysfunction, a hilariously deadpan tone and a wealth of Phillips’ biting, self-mocking songs, the movie earns its Slamdance accolade.