The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Comedy is a painful profession. I know athletes break their bones, and stuntmen crash cars and set themselves ablaze, but comedians willingly tap into their emotional pain. While it’s sometimes at the expense of their mental health, it’s always at the risk of no laughs at all. The long and winding road to success doesn’t end at the stage, and that’s only one of a handful of realities Steve Byrne’s The Opening Act sheds light on.
This is actor and comedian Steve Byrne’s directorial debut, and honestly it’s not bad. While it’s marketed as a comedy though, I didn’t find it too funny. Between the many bits, one-liners, and standup sequences, there are certainly moments that will make people laugh, but the overall Apatow-esque approach just didn’t work for me. Instead, I was drawn to the film’s more serious moments. In those moments, not only do the film’s message and voice emerge, but Byrne’s knack for embodying empathy does too. There’s a scene in the film where our main character, an aspiring comic, totally bombs on stage. As horrible as his performance is - and as cringy as he is to watch - you can’t help but feel for him. In that moment, Byrne makes you understand how badly he wants to succeed and perfectly captures how much his failure might cost. For a comedian, Byrne proves that he doesn’t always need words to tell a story. The surprisingly somber opening sequence is especially demonstrative of that.
The film revolves around a young man by the name of Will Chu who wants nothing more than to be a standup comedian. When he’s not working his dead end job, he performs at a local club. When a fellow aspiring comedian from the club offers him an opportunity to become an opening act for one of his idols, Will quits his job, hits the road, and begins to learn what it truly means to follow his dreams.
The film’s plot is very straight-forward, and I appreciated that. However, with the exception of the few random excursions Will goes on with one of the other comedians he meets, this film is mostly predictable. And I say “mostly” because there are still two things that make the film a bit more memorable than other recent comedies.
The first is its insight into the comedy scene. Not only does it perfectly capture a performer's different peaks and pitfalls, but at times, Will acts as a surrogate for aspiring comedians listening to different tips and tricks that are sure to help anyone trying to break into the business. The film’s second noteworthy aspect is its cast.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
From Jimmy O. Yang to Bill Burr, the cast consists entirely of comedians, and they’re all terrific - regardless of how big their roles are. Yang plays the main character, and while both he and his character are Asian-American, I liked the fact that race never matters. The only reason I mention it is because I think any number of writers or directors might have used his race as either a plot point, or as a means to make the film appeal more to that culture. Instead, Steve Byrne, being of Asian descent himself, makes the mature decision to normalize the idea that anyone can do anything (regardless of where they come from) by not acknowledging it at all. At the end of the day, he’s an average person who just wants to follow his dreams.
That being said, Yang is good - especially in the moments where he’s forced to come to terms with the possibility that he might not succeed; but he’s not the best character. That honor goes to Cedric the Entertainer. He plays Will’s idol, the iconic comedian Billy G. Granted his character is a bit cliched as the older, wiser mentor, he still feels so genuine. It’s almost as if he’s actually tapping into his own experience to inspire the next generation of comedians that'll come across this film.
Other highlights include Whitney Cummings, Roy Woods Jr., and the always enjoyable Ken Jeong, but the entire cast especially shines during the film’s credits when everyone talks about their experiences breaking into the business.
That’s The Punchline
THE OPENING ACT (2020)
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Even though words are essentially the backbone of the story, I think that Byrne does a really good job at getting his point across in other ways - especially the sound. For instance, applause and laughter, or even the lack thereof make or break our main character. By investing us in Will’s story so much, the audience is conditioned into holding that metric to as much of a high regard as he does. As a result, when he tells a joke we hang onto every word hoping that he “kills.”
Comedy may be subjective, but that doesn’t make the comedian’s job less important. As Cedric the Entertainer’s character puts it (perfectly), it’s not so much about making the people laugh as it is about making them feel good. There’s a difference. The Opening Act may not knock everyone’s socks off, but that doesn’t make it any less of an enjoyable and oftentimes inspiring story. Now, whether there’s an audience applauding or not, as long as you believe in yourself, you can’t fail. That’s the punchline.
THE OPENING ACT - In Theaters, On Digital and On Demand October 16, 2020
Surprisingly, there are some ridiculous visual components. In one scene, there’s a character firing his gun at objects in a makeshift shootout range. To make it look like he’s hitting every target though, each object explodes into CGI bits that look almost as fake as one of the film’s other ridiculous pieces - or should I say Cedric the Entertainer’s hair piece in the film? Both of these things may appear in the film briefly, however the film would also be fine without both of them.