Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jimmy O. Yang, Cedric the Entertainer, Alex Moffat, Ken Jeong, Bill Burr, Whitney Cummings, Debby Ryan, Neal Brennan, Jermaine Fowler, Russell Peters, Tom Segura
Written by: Steve Byrne
Directed by: Steve Byrne
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 90
Date: 10/16/2020

The Opening Act (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Comedy of Carers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The indie drama The Opening Act features several comedians in roles of all kinds, but it weirdly contains very few laughs; however, it works in its own quiet way with touching characters and a fascinating setting.

Will (Jimmy O. Yang) has grown up watching stand-up comedy with his father, and now dreams of becoming a comic himself. But he has reached a standstill performing open mic nights, unable to move up. When his friend Quinn (Ken Jeong) offers him the chance to emcee a big-time show, Will quits his awful job in an insurance firm, risking everything on this one shot.

Even better, his hero, Billy G (Cedric the Entertainer) is the headliner. But he's paired for the weekend with warmup act Chris (Alex Moffat), who likes to party and pick up women, and Will immediately stumbles into some bad luck and loses his confidence. Can he get it back before Sunday night, or will he give up on his dream?

Comedian Steve Byrne makes his feature writing and directing debut with The Opening Act, and it's a refreshingly simple story about whether or not to give up on one's dream. In the lead role, Yang has a sweet presence, in a happy relationship with his girlfriend (Debby Ryan, who doesn't get much to do), although perhaps a little too sweet to handle zany situations like being trapped under a cop's girlfriend's trailer or accidentally taking the last chocolate eclair belonging to a local DJ.

When not trying too hard with ridiculous asides like those, The Opening Act really captures a realistic feeling of what it might be like to work in a club. Comics are either very specific about their introductions, or very vague ("from clubs and colleges"), and we learn never to try out new jokes on a Saturday night.

Other comics, from SNL's Moffat to veteran stand-ups like Cedric, Jeong, Whitney Cummings, and others, perform their bits as if they were at work, on the job, and not concerned about making us movie viewers laugh, which makes them more human. Bill Burr may have the best shot at tickling funnybones not as a comedian, but in the silly role of Will's awful boss, spouting inspirational quotes, but leaving the last word blank.

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