Crying With Laughter was a movie I hadn’t heard of until the disc dropped through my letterbox for me to review and I immediately gave myself a stern talking to. A dark thriller. Centred around a stand-up comedian. Filmed in Edinburgh, my birthplace and home. Why the hell had I not heard of this movie?
Well, I’m glad that I have heard of it now and glad that I can tell others that what we have here is an excellent, twisted mix of black comedy and painful drama that hits a lot of familiar British crime thriller beats while also building itself up to be something quite original (at least I thought so) once all of the details are revealed.
Stephen McCole stars as comedian Joey Frisk, a comic who reveals early on that he developed his humour from a sense of self-preservation and who happily uses everything that happens to him as material for his stage shows (two characteristics that many comedians share, in my experience). He’s doing quite well for himself, despite the best efforts of his abrasive personality to maintain a high level of self-abuse and constant loathing, and there’s a big talent spotter due to see him very soon. But everything gets a bit funny peculiar rather than funny ha ha when Joey bumps into an old school friend, Frank (played by Malcolm Shields), and then finds that Frank is keen to get him involved in some reunion for a school he wasn’t at for all that long and that he hated anyway. While Frank continues to cajole him, Joey has to try and keep a decent relationship with his ex (played by Jo Hartley) and juggle the time when he’s due to be looking after his young daughter. But Frank really, REALLY wants that reunion to happen for some reason.
Crying With Laughter starts off seeming a little unsure of itself, the opening moments are a little clumsy as Joey spouts some of his material on a beachfront and we gain knowledge of his crudity, honesty and carelessness (all things that come through when we see him perform on stage anyway), but it soon finds it’s feet and makes the viewer relatively comfortable in a world of discomfort.
Written and directed by Justin Molotnikov (this is, quite impressively, his first feature after a career encompassing a couple of shorts and some TV work), the movie pitches things just perfectly as we travel on a journey that includes some major trauma, the darkest of dark secrets and yet the blackest of black humour. We’re helped through everything by the fact that Joey is a comedian therefore his first instinct and his first method of dealing with difficulties in life is to make light of it.
It’s in that respect that Crying With Laughter excels. The performances are decent enough (McCole is very good, Jo Hartley is great, Shields is a bit too “still” but there’s also great work from Andrew Neil and Grant O’Rourke does great with a small role) and the structuring of the tale allows us to keep some small air bubble of relief that there is light at the end of the tunnel but Crying With Laughter is a movie that works on at least two levels. On the surface it’s a very effective thriller/drama that uncovers something particularly sordid and at the same time it’s a very, very good look at the psychology of comedy, both as a defence mechanism and as a way of breaking taboos and getting any message to other people. The fact that Joey Frisk can keep people so far removed from his emotional core while also telling them absolute truths couched in venom-coated comedic observations is all the more enjoyable because of how often it can happen in reality. The old cliché of “never a truer word spoken in jest” is a cliché because it’s often true. And Crying With Laughter reinforces that saying with it’s engrossing, thoughtful and entertaining (although it’s also disturbing at times) execution.
Although the review disc did not contain all of the features due to be on the retail release I thoroughly recommend picking up this shiny little piece of goodness, that should come with commentary, behind the scenes material and a lot of other goodies (including a number of Frisk’s jokes in a notebook) on a 2-disc special edition. Mr Frisk will have you in stitches from 24/1/11.
DIRECTOR: JUSTIN MOLOTNIKOV
STARS: STEPHEN McCOLE, MALCOLM SHIELDS, ANDREW NEIL, JO HARTLEY
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX