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Sundance 2012: Tim and Eric walk into a film festival

January 28, 2012 |  2:57 pm

Comedians Tim Heidecker, left, and Eric Wareheim in Park City, Utah.
Nobody does absurdity quite like Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, better known by their personas of Tim and Eric:  hapless bunglers with a mean streak, part lovable friends, part total jerks. So it somehow makes sense they should have two very different projects this year at Sundance, a place where absurdity often reigns, a weird mix of glitz and grunge, scrounging and branding, swag in the snow.

The duo premiered their own debut feature film, "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" here as part of the Midnight section, playing to crowds beyond their usual fans. They also both appear as actors in the Narrative Competition film "The Comedy," directed by Rick Alverson. One film is a ridiculous tour of their comedic world and the other a quietly crushing look at coming to the stark realization of what a mess you are.

"Billion Dollar Movie" follows the characters of Tim and Eric -- well-known to fans of their cult Cartoon Network show "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" -- as they blow through a billion dollars making a movie they don't even finish. (Money only goes so far when you start to get suits made of diamonds.) Needing to pay it back, they get jobs managing a run-down shopping mall. With cameos by Zach Galifianakis, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, the film captures the askew worldview of Tim and Eric, strange and fresh.

In "The Comedy," Heidecker plays a guy who seems to just laze around all day. When he gets together with his friends (including Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy), it is for escalating flights of male bonding and low-simmering cruelty. The film deconstructs the so-called hipster persona while providing a vivid emotional life to a character that is easier to dismiss than consider. And for a film called "The Comedy," it is extremely sad.

Having two films at Sundance at the same time presented certain challenges in keeping them distinct.

"What I kept saying to Rick was, 'Just so you know, this is going to be an issue for your audience. There is going to be a natural confusion,'" Heidecker said in an interview this week. "I thought at the time it could be a problem. Not for us, because the work was fun to do and if the movie doesn't work out, who cares? But I thought Rick and the producers could have a problem with the film, that people would not understand that this wasn't a Tim and Eric thing."

There were practical concerns as well.

"It shouldn't say 'Tim and Eric's 'The Comedy' at the same time 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' is coming out," added Heidecker. "It's been handled pretty well, considering."

For Alverson, a former construction contractor turned musician turned filmmaker, having Heidecker and Wareheim in roles that played off their personas as Tim and Eric was partly the point. Working from an outline, Alverson prefers to improvise scenes, in particular the long sessions of aimless drinking and hanging out that form the backbone of the film.

"Their chemistry was really important to me," Alverson said of casting the duo"I work a lot from that to try to recontextualize certain aspects of people's personalities and the chemistry that they have. So I was happy they would both be involved in the core group of friends for the movie considering they have this real palpable energy between the two of them that works."

Heidecker and Wareheim were at Sundance last year with their short film "The Terrys," but this year, with two films and busy schedule of press for their "Billion Dollar Movie," has been completely different. Both films this year have been met by reports of scattered walk-outs and some confusion from audiences as to just what they're seeing.

"The crowds here are very different from what Tim and I are used to," said Wareheim. "When we do our live tours it's 100% Tim and Eric fans and this is an interesting mix, where not everyone is aware of us. It's just a different vibe."

"Some people have said how silly it is it's at Sundance or how weird it is, but to me it is an independent film in the strictest sense," Heidecker said of "Billion Dollar Movie." "It may be this wacky comedy and Sundance is seen as this prestigious thing, but the film really is the ultimate expression of what independent film is about. It came from two guys, it's not meant to appeal to everybody and just because we're not dealing with sober social issues doesn't mean it doesn't belong."

"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" will open in theaters in early March and is available on video-on-demand as of Friday. It was announced during the festival that Rough House Pictures, the production company of Danny McBride, David Gordon Green and Jody Hill, would partner with the Jagjaguwar record label to present "The Comedy." The scene in the clip below, in which Heidecker and Wareheim berate a cab driver while Murphy looks on, was posted online by Jagjaguwar as a taste of the film's style.


The Comedy (Clip) from Rick Alverson on Vimeo.


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Sundance 2012: A child's-eye view in "Kid Thing"

Indie Focus: "Nobody Walks" is a big step for Ry Russo-Young

-- Mark Olsen, in Park City, Utah


Photo: Comedians Tim Heidecker, left, and Eric Wareheim pause on Main Street in Park City, Utah, during a day of press at the Sundance Film Festival, for their film "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," Jan. 20, 2012. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times