I’ve never heard of comedian Henry Phillips but that’s not surprising. I don’t know many comedians…which is probably sad because I love comedy. Most of my comedy is watching Jimmy Carr or Steve Hofstetter mock the crap out of hecklers on YouTube. It’s a shame because Phillips, doing comedy through his great, funny songs, is one hell of a comedian.
Punching Henry has Phillips playing a fictionalized version of himself as he goes from town to town doing his act. When a producer named Jay Warren (J.K. Simmons) wants to do something with Henry he heads to Los Angeles to see what can happen. He had some crappy things happen to him in the past in L.A. so Henry isn’t so excited to go out to L.A.
The producer and the network who want to work with Henry are trying to have Henry’s songs go viral. Going viral gives them ideas for a show for Henry…so they wait to see if they do go viral. It is a very slow going process. Out in L.A. without shit to do Henry starts playing as many clubs as he can. The results of these shows can be quite varied. Henry isn’t the type to go after a heckler and it really seems that assholes show up at his shows (or assholes just go to comedy shows in general).
Henry is just a good guy who just has never got his chance. That is until a guy at one of his shows gives Henry a joint. Henry takes the joint and puts it behind his ear, not knowing that the doobie was lit. So Henry almost catches fire and ends up face planting off the stage. As everything is recorded these days someone uploads the video to the Internet and Henry is a sudden viral superstar. Everyone wants to go to his shows but they don’t want his act of doing funny songs. Basically they want him to act like an idiot and I guess fall off stage.
The people at the network suddenly have a great idea. Henry can host a show about people doing stupid things on the Internet and Henry can do more stupid things like falling on his face each week. No songs, no comedy, just Henry acting like an idiot.
What’s a comedian to do? Do the show and take the money? Or go back out into the world doing shitty shows in shitty bars around the country?
While Henry is GREAT I would not call this film a comedy by any means. When Henry is onstage he is pretty much a riot. When he’s offstage? The film is pretty dramatic as we see what it can be like for a small time comedian on the road and the shit they have to go through. I feel like the writers (Phillips and director Gregori Viens) really wanted to speak on a bunch of things. That includes how shitty it really can be for performers on the road. How people can be assholes while comedians are just trying to do their stuff onstage. And that going viral can be such a harrowing experience if you are caught doing something that really isn’t your scene.The film is filled with comedians from Jim Jefferies to Doug Stanhope. There’s also great small performances from Clifton Collins Jr (as a serious artist/heckler), Sarah Silverman (as a…podcaster? I guess?) and Simmons. They all don’t get a lot of screen time as this movie is ALL Phillips. But it is nice to have bigger names filling out these smaller parts.
Punching Henry is a nice indie look into the life of a comedian. If you ever wonder what it must be like playing shitty club after shitty club then this movie is for you. I’ve NEVER wondered that but I still had a good time watching the flick. I’d say that is pretty much because of Phillips who does one hell of a job in this film. And his comedy is pure genius.
As for special features there’s not a shit ton and I wouldn’t expect a lot from this type of movie. There’s two deleted scenes that were taken from the beginning of the film. One has Henry onstage doing an amazingly funny song. The other is J.K. Simmons character and how he actually comes to learn about Henry. Both were amazing and would have added greatly to the actual plot of the film. As this movie is only 95 minutes long it is almost puzzling why these three minutes were actually cut. Maybe they just wanted something that was a sleek 90 minutes with the 5 or so minutes of credits. Personally I think it was a mistake – but I’m glad they were on the disc to both laugh at the song and flesh out the plot a smidgen.
There is also a ton of takes of comedian Brendon Walsh “bashing” his head into a street meter over and over and over and over and over again. The man was committed to those takes and getting the look right (being an overzealous fan who nearly breaks his nose). There also some outtakes of comedian Mark Cohen in character as “Stupid Joe” doing some great one-liners that I’m fairly certain were ad-libbed. He was pretty damn funny.
Lastly there’s no commentary track (which is great because I wouldn’t have listened to it anyway) and there IS a trailer included (which is great because I always love to watch the trailers to a movie).
Final thoughts? I dug the flick and recommend it to everyone except my wife…who actually fell asleep when we were front row at a comedy show. Brian Posehn was the comedian on stage and he didn’t heckle her so much as tore into me for bringing someone who would fall asleep midway through his set. I love Posehn…but that was no fun getting ripped into. Once my wife woke up…she had quite a laugh about it.
SPECIAL FEATURES: B+
Edited several times days after the fact because I guess I didn’t edit it the first time around….good job, Ace!