Comics aren’t even real people, you idiot. We’re barely even human.
MiCerz is the story of inherently unlikable and unfunny people trying to make it as stand-up comedians in the harrowing Los Angeles open-mic circuit. Those attributes aren’t a filmmaking failure; they’re baked into the script and the performances. Although it runs too long for a story about abrasive characters trying to make it (because by the end, we really don’t care), there’s still a commendable level of sad authenticity in Omar Dzlieri’s exploration of what it means to be an entertainer who can’t entertain … which is, frankly, the vast majority of men and women who set out to work in the industry.
Arnold (Austin Torelli) bombs onstage by night and drives an Uber by day. He’s an L.A. transplant by way of Dayton, Ohio, from which he moved west with his girlfriend, Mary (Carla Lomelín). Dayton is an uninspiring place; Arnold describes it onstage the way you’d describe it in conversation, which is to say a meth-infested dump. It’s not an original joke. It doesn’t land. None of his set does. Frankly, he sucks. He’s equally bad at driving for Uber, which becomes less of a problem when his willingness to snort bumps from passengers lands him with a DUI and a license suspension. Mary didn’t sign up for their cross-country move to take care of a manchild, so Arnold finds himself basically homeless. Fortunately, Dave (Joe Manente), the owner of the Bomb Shelter, a failing comedy club where Arnold performs, needs help renovating the place to keep it open. Dave lets Arnold live in his van in the alleyway behind the club. Thus, a bromance forms.
The Bomb Shelter has attracted a loyal band of wannabe comedians. What binds them together is a lack of success and a need for community in a dog-eat-dog industry where even gaining a foothold requires unfathomable luck. Some of them are pretty likable, much more so than the lead characters.
For every Marc Maron, there are thousands of failures. One of the reasons for that, of course, is that few of these comedians are particularly funny yet. Some will eventually workshop their material long enough to figure out a unique perspective, but most default to the easiest form of comedy, which is to play with racial stereotypes and righteous anger. With skill, that can work. They don’t quite have it. Like I said, this is baked into the story: Some of these characters grow out of their phase while others double down to various degrees of success. It does, however, become laborious over the course of two hours. I don’t know if we’re supposed to laugh at them for failing or laugh at their jokes, but either way, it becomes frustrating.
Another issue is that Arnold is never a likable or sympathetic lead character. He sucks as much as his comedy does. Thankfully, Dave is a much stronger supporting character. His comedy is bad, too, but at least he has a backstory that gives him some emotional weight. He understands what the Bomb Shelter means to his small cohort of fellow failing artists, and his desire to keep it open comes from a genuinely emotional place. He only makes $300 a night, so it’s not like he has a financial incentive anyway. Manente plays the prickly proprietor with a lot of range. Dave’s jokes stink and he’s a big asshole, but at least he has some motivation.
I’m thoroughly mixed when it comes to MICerz. I enjoyed the underlying idea of the film, but ultimately, it’s too long for its own good. I guess the fundamental truth is that a film about comics that aren’t funny enough to make it probably isn’t going to be especially funny.