'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' Delights in Discomfort

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The comedy duo's feature film will make you squirm in your seat. That's the point.

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The small screen, where the cult-comic duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have resided for almost a decade now, would have been big enough. A television allows the viewer to be otherwise occupied while watching. But movies command attention. The film is the only thing going on in the cinema. If what's playing terrifies or disgusts you, there is no escape, nowhere to avert your eyes. In the darkness, you are confined to the cushiony seat that cradles you into a state of unselfconsciousness, as your eyes start to water from the screen's brightness and popcorn butter dribbles down your chin. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, in theaters this Friday, features its creators' characteristic array of cringe-worthy gags and goons, but none more disturbed than those in the audience with the enlightened perversity to willingly be held captive to this film.

Randomness and bizarre gross-outs are at the core of Tim and Eric's brand of comedy, which was on display during the three-year run of Cartoon Network's Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! But theirs is not mere toilet humor. It is simultaneously grotesque and humane: in distorting the picture of how we are, the audience is repulsed. Billion Dollar Movie begins with an ad-within-a-film, and Jeff Goldblum as the spokesperson for Schlaaang movie theater seats. "I bet you're just getting comfortable in your own Schlaaang Super Seat" (for which, says the closed-captioning, your particular theater is unfortunately not equipped). Here's how it works: "First, several needles are connected to a vein in your arm. Chemicals are then introduced to synchronize your emotions with the movie. Next, air tubes are inserted into the nasal cavity to guide you into a natural breathing pattern..." There is no escape. Once the model-sitter's legs have been strapped into stirrups, and viewers "stare directly into the screen for Super Seat calibration," the film-within-the-film can finally start.

"We cast some people that—we like to say—put a headshot up online and forgot about it, maybe"

The "real" movie follows from there. Tim and Eric must pay back cartoonishly furious studio heads for the $1 billion they blew on a failed attempt at making a Johnny Depp flick (they accidentally used a Depp look-alike, hired a nincompoop guru, etc). As the head producer says, significantly, "What the fuck was that?" We are more fortunate, though, because Tim and Eric periodically interrupt themselves to further subvert the already-absurd film with corporate info-video parody "Understand Your Movie" interludes.

Understanding Tim and Eric may not be worth your time. When Billion Dollar Movie premiered at Sundance, about a third of the audience walked out by the end. But if Tim and Eric's appeal is a matter of taste, it also merits closer consideration than the "stoner comedy" label it is given, often too casually. They are like the used-toilet-paper store in the mall they plan to save to earn back their billion: "a gourmet operation."

In the first part of the film, Tim and Eric appear as L.A. boy caricatures. Eric Wareheim has a diamond-studded goatee and purple sunglasses presumably stolen 12 years ago from an *NSYNC music video shoot. Tim Heidecker has false teeth, a fake tan, and lip gloss that doesn't match either. When their screening flops, the pair head out to (where else?) the Circus Disco and (what else?) cut an arm off. But we then see them transform. To become mall-saving P.R. men, they change their attitudes and their looks in a montage of the heartwarming-absurd with the flavor of bromance-farce, as they trim each other's hair in the bathtub and remove their outlandish accessories. A box arrives at the door marked "Ken Dugard's Men's Shirts and Khakis." They dress one other in muted-colored attire as the delivery man looks on (another mirror to the audience), initially with cheery approval, which then descends into boredom and discomfort.

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Betsy Morais is an editorial assistant at The New Yorker.

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