If there's one reason that I decided to immerse myself in the world of indie film as a film journalist, it's to celebrate the artistic freedom that very often comes with it. While studio releases are often designed to cater to the whims of bottom-line concerned studio execs and targeted almost exclusively toward finding the biggest audience possible, indie films have the freedom to be bold, adventurous, true to the story, and less concerned about studio BS.
The Improviser isn't a studio film, though the indie project has been picked up by indie distributor Indie Rights for a streaming release that may very well help it reach its deserved wider audience. Writer/director Daniel Florio has crafted a dark, engaging thriller that stays true to its story even when that story goes into some occasionally jarring, borderline offensive places that may not be for everyone but will certainly be for those who lean toward the edgier side of indie cinema.
The Improviser centers around Brett Sugarman (Anthony Giordano), a wannabe comic who does all the right things but, maybe just maybe, not always in the right ways. If you've ever been around the comedy world, and I've both dabbled in stand-up and produced a comedy DVD, you've likely met at least one or two folks like Sugarman, a guy who desperately wants to be a comedian but isn't particularly funny and has social skills to match. Sugarman has made a lot of the right moves - he takes improv classes, networks with other comics, and he's even trying to kick off his own podcast. He meets a similarly toned comic, Greg Taylor (Zach Garner), working on a fierce "Alt-Right Shark" character and tries to snag him for the podcast.
So far, nada.
The Improviser isn't the first and certainly won't be the last flick to be set in the world of stand-up comedy, though Florio does an admirable job of giving the film its own distinct tone. He's helped by Giordano's relentless, raw performance that is so jarring you almost don't want to ever meet the guy. Working alongside a local improve troupe known as the Gigglypuffs, Sugarman further alienates himself with a character that is so over-the-top misogynistic that the women in the troupe are freaked out.
In short, Brett Sugarman is one of those dark, toxic, and mean-spirited comics whose comedy is part righteous rage and part therapy. The comedy world has been filled with mean-spirited, abusive, and self-destructive comics who have been enormously successful. Heck, the recently departed Gallagher was quite well known as more than a little bit of an a**hole. The problem is, of course, that Brett Sugarman isn't even particularly talented.
While certainly not a perfect film, The Improviser is the kind of indie flick I enjoy specifically because it goes deeper and darker and more relentlessly than just about any studio production would ever have the balls to go. The Improviser isn't a comedy - it's a thriller set in the comedy world with hints of comedy, especially improv, that are probably the weakest parts of the film. The Improviser works especially well because Florio builds a strong foundation really immerses us in this community and because, quite honestly, Giordano gives a powerhouse performance. While Giordano dominates, and I'm sure Sugarman would absolutely love that, The Improviser features a strong ensemble cast that finds all the necessary little nuances here to really sell this flick.
The Improviser picked up three prizes at the Austin Revolution Film Festival (Best Editor, Best U.S. Director, and Best U.S. Actress for the wonderful Joy Shatz). Shatz does, indeed, dazzle as Sara in a role best left undescribed as you can see the film for yourself now via most streaming platforms. While Florio's work here is impressive, I'd be remiss to not mention the collaborative and impressive work of Chris Sciacco who serves as second director, editor, and D.P. on the film alongside a terrific cast and crew.
For those who appreciate bold and revolutionary cinema, The Improviser is a film to check out.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic