- Actors: Henry Phillips, J.K. Simmons, Ashley Johnson, Sarah Silverman
- Director: Gregori Viens
- Disc Format: Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
- Language: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
- Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
- Region: All Regions
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Rated: Not Rated
- Studio: Well Go USA
- Release Date: April 18, 2017
- Run Time: 94 minutes
Part cynical satire of celebrity and the shallowness of the entertainment industry, part true-to-life depiction of the life of a struggling artist, Punching Henry is the opposite of a feel-good comedy. Stand-up comedy has a long history of celebrating self-deprecating humor, and Henry Phillips simply takes this idea into a feature film role as he essentially just plays himself. It is somewhat like watching a stand-up comic’s set being played out in script form, which is somehow less satisfying as one might expect. That is not to say that there isn’t humor in the depressing exploits of the traveling comic troubadour, but the funniest part of the film is when he puts down the guitar at the end of the film and makes jokes about the torturous events that we have endured in the narrative.
Punching Henry is a shamelessly similar follow-up to Punching the Clown (2009), also directed and co-written by Gregori Viens. This semi-sequel follows Phillips as he travels to
for a series of unfortunate events and the opportunity to sell out in order to
become a reality TV star. This is the basic plot, but the film meanders from
one unrelated uncomfortable scenario to the next, somewhat like a stand-up set
might do. In-between the dealings with TV station executives on how to increase
his celebrity, Phillips continues to take minor jobs performing in bars and
clubs along the West coast, and has plenty of additional painful encounters
along the way. Los Angeles
The running gag of Punching Henry is how pathetic the singer comedian and his life truly is, highlighting numerous unsuccessful shows as example. The problem with this is that the film is sometimes too convincing, often making it unclear whether we are meant to laugh at Phillips’ act or at the failure of it. And without the actual self deprecating tone of storytelling, the unfortunate events occurring to Phillips on his LA trip are more sad than humorous. These painful tribulations start with the loss of Phillips’ car immediately upon arriving in the city, leading him to an endless encounter with an unreliable cab company.
Between excerpts of Phillips’ act and episodic misadventures destined to become stand-up routines, the film satirizes the impact that viral success has on the modern entertainment industry. Phillips is approached by a TV producer (J.K. Simmons) who pitches the idea of a reality series focused on the comedian’s floundering career. The only problem is that the station interested in producing the show is more concerned with an internet following than anything in the content itself. When videos of Phillips performing receive little attention online, it looks unlikely the project will take off, until he has a mishap onstage that goes viral. This might be funnier if it weren’t so accurate to the way that the industry actually works in the days of talentless social media stars.
Punching Henry pads its cast with numerous comedians, though only Phillips is playing himself. This allows Tig Notaro to play his friend, Jillian, though her character is not a far cry from the comedian’s actual personality. Jim Jefferies also appears as a fellow comedian, though he might as well be playing himself despite having a different character name. Sarah Silverman’s appearance is the most disjointed from the storyline, as a podcaster interviewing Phillips in-between the episodic situations, though it is never really clear when this takes place in the timeline of the narrative. I think the main point is that the film got Silverman to lend her celebrity to the project, making it a participant in the same game that it is satirizing.
The Blu-ray release of Punching Henry is fairly unnecessary, especially considering the low budget quality of the filmmaking. This isn’t a film that needed any flashier photography, but the high definition presentation is pointless as a result. The special features include a couple of deleted scenes and featurettes, as well as a trailer for the film which is longer than most of the extras. The deleted scenes include an additional song from Phillips, while the featurettes are basically just alternate takes from memorable moments by two of the characters in the film.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 3/10