The Accidental Masochist
I really did not know who Jamie Kennedy was before watching this film. I saw parts of his film “Malibu’s Most Wanted” on TV a while ago but I really could not bring myself to watch it. It was not good. It was not for me. However “Heckler”, the documentary he made about demystifying the heckler and what makes people heckle the comedian on the stage, does present him in a rather interesting way. But first things first.
I love documentary films, even the ones that are not very good. Simply because no matter how poorly made the movie may be there usually is something to take away from it, or even learn. That’s something that is not always the case with narrative films. And as documentaries go “Heckler” is not bad, but honestly it is not a great documentary either.
The film starts out as an exploration of the relationship between the comedian and the heckler, but it very nonchalantly equates the critics with the hecklers. And although some critics are vicious they are never hecklers. The purpose of a heckler is to disrupt your act, and that is something a professional critic can never do. He cannot interrupt you in the middle of the punchline to your best joke like a heckler can, and then what about the critics who actually praise your work? This equation between the hecklers and the critics is the greatest flaw of the film, but it does still explore some interesting territory with it.
The one great thing the film does is that it portrays Jamie and other artists as human, which is something that the tabloids, TV and movies make us easily forget. They are human just like anyone else and do not have dinosaur skin that is impervious to cruel criticism. But on the other hand this was always a part of the job, and if you are not prepared to deal with negative opinions of professionals or your audience then maybe you are in the wrong line of work. Which brings me to the very paradoxical nature of this film.
When you make yourself and your emotional reaction to something like criticism the center piece of a film then you are just inviting even more opinions about yourself. And in that sense “Heckler” is probably having the very opposite effect Mr. Kennedy wanted, which makes this film a profound work of accidental masochism. At least that is the case if we’re to go by Jamie’s reactions to criticism in this film and I say “accidental” because I really doubt that this was the purpose of the film. It also makes the "cathartic" moment at the end feel a bit premature.
Since the film is dealing with comedians primarily it is very natural that “Heckler” is quite funny as well. It’s not a laughing riot but it has some genuinely funny moments. That and the interesting subject matter of criticism and its role in modern show business (the actual purpose of the film?) make "Heckler" a very entertaining film, despite the mentioned flaws.
Bill Hicks (archive footage)
Heckler om IMDb