Hapless satirical songwriter Henry Phillips is lured to LA when a veteran TV producer decides to make a show about the life of a loser.
I’ve never heard of Henry Phillips but that is not meant to be an insult to him since I don’t know or follow most comedians. So, I went into Gregori Viens “Punching Henry” blind and hoped it was funny because there’s nothing more awkward and infuriating than watching a “comedy” that’s painfully ineffectual. With help from other comedians such as Tig Notaro, J.K. Simmons, and Mark Cohen (among many others), “Punching Henry” is definitely funny. It’s not your raunchy in your face obvious funny, but a slow-simmering just beneath the skin light chuckle that unexpectedly flourishes into unrestrained belly laughs once the sting of the humor sinks in. You nearly feel dumb because the humor will pass right over you giving way to an excessive and serious case of delayed laughter. Which, in my case, made me want to watch the film again to see what all I may have missed entirely. It’s a very bittersweet moment when a film has you near enough second guessing your IQ.
Henry Phillips is coaxed back to L.A. by his off-kilter agent, Ellen Pinsky (Ellen Ratner), after producer Jay Warren (J.K. Simmons) is interested in making a comedy reality series based on the woeful misadventures of Henry Phillips. Henry Phillips is what some may call a “shit magnet.” The kind of guy where people shake their heads and say “only him.” “Sisyphus meets Charlie Brown,” as the near-sinister producer Jay Warren puts it. The first task is to get Henry to go viral. The folksy musician-comedian gets one of his rambling satirical songs out there but it is not what winds up going viral (unbeknownst to him). For a few fleeting moments, Henry gets to bask in the joy of going viral, thinking things are going to breakthrough for him, and then it politely collapses on him, per usual. It’s at this moment that he has to decide whether or not he wants to cash in his dignity.
Outside of trying to go viral, Henry is staying with long time friend Jillian (Tig Notaro) and her wife, Zoe (Stephanie Allynne). The couple convinces Henry to help provide them with a child via the tried and true way of reproducing instead of the overly expensive in-vitro method. Another comical misstep as he ends up doing what most teenage and college guys train themselves to do in lieu of protection.
Aside from the farcical impregnation attempt, Henry faces jeering audiences in mediocre comedy clubs, banters with a disgruntled taxi dispatcher, and gets his car stolen mere moments upon arriving in L.A. His failures are performed so delicately that Henry Phillips embodies the likable loser Jay Warren is itching to snag. While the humor in “Punching Henry” is meant be a low-key intellectual breed, it could still use a little more oomph to take it all the way. It’s enough but it’s only enough to piss me off. I want MORE!
Now available on Blu-ray