Road Hard full movie review - Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside
Adam Corolla and Kevin Hench's Road Hard is a wonderfully dark comedy, not just examining the principles and day-to-day life of being functionally lonely and starved for "something more," but giving us an uproariously funny and simultaneously dark illustration of the life of a struggling comedian.
Films like this plunge us into worlds we either didn't put much thought into prior to seeing a film like this or worlds we simply shortchanged and didn't imagine could be so complex. Like I said when the tragic suicide of Robin Williams occurred in mid-2014, it's shocking how many comedians are seen laughing on the outside but crying on the inside.
The film revolves around Corolla's Bruce Madsen, years after his acting career has stalled, leaving him to do a series of standup comedy routines at third rate comedy clubs just to make a living. He spends his nights in budget hotels, plagued by his divorce with his wife (Illeana Douglas) which has left him dead broke, seeing his partner Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr) on his old sitcom becoming a national success while his career flounders), and his own personal, stubborn attitude towards his fans and his current life situation. He trusts in his agent "Babydoll" (Larry Miller) to get him solid work, but all that materializes are more lackluster standup gigs, which pay low and demand a great deal of energy and time.
Right off the bat, while we're given room to sympathize with Bruce during the film, we're also given room to criticize him. Corolla and Hench pen the character with just the right amount of likability and personal damnation that we can recognize that a large part of his problem is that he, himself, prevents him from getting anywhere. Bruce isn't a person to compromise, and while he is often the funniest soul in any room he is in, he looks down upon his audience, his fans, and the people in his life, in an immaturely condescending fashion that does nothing but block him from achieving any kind of success.
Make no mistake, however, Bruce Madsen is also bound to be one of the funniest characters to be profiled on film this year. Bruce greatly reminds me of Larry David's playing his exaggerated self on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, always getting himself into sticky situations because of his own inability to play the social game, admit fault, and constant need to make a bad situation worse by embellishing it (which also makes for great laughs). Consider the scene when Bruce decides to smoke half a cigarette in the bathroom of his hotel room, blowing the smoke into the air vent, and, upon arriving at the information desk to check out, realizes he is fined $250 his single cigarette. Rather than just admitting fault, Bruce has to make a scene, and, while it's a hilarious one, it clearly shows us why Bruce is stuck in this funk; he instigates and belittles, up until the point when he has alienated everyone within earshot.
Countless examples of this run amok in Road Hard, but, like any embarrassing or humiliating story, such antics make for great comedy. One of the many brilliant scenes in the film show Bruce having trouble with one of his hotel keys, and editor Ryan Brown smoothly juxtaposes Bruce's struggles with getting his hotel key to work with Bruce doing a standup routine about faulty hotel keys and the embarrassment that ensues when trying to get the problem remedied. Such a scene shows how us comedy is extracted from our daily shortcomings, difficulties, and hardships, and seeing the comedy routine interjected with the actual struggle shows us just how funny the situation is, whether we recognize it while it's occurring or not.
Road Hard, while bound to be one of the funniest films of the year, is also one of the saddest. It's a story of failing to live up to one's personal standards while being bogged down by one's personal ambitions. Bruce knows he is too good for certain jobs like being the warmup act for his best friend's late night TV show, but rather than trying out the job and seeing if he could work his way up, also earning a substantial, momentary income, he'll refuse and put up a fight, showing him as ungrateful and stubborn when he really knows what he's capable of and trying to live up to his personal standards. It's a sad circumstance that, I fear, many are going to be engaged in as the future comes; so many young people go into college with high ambitions and, while many emerge willing to do what they are permitted to do in a momentary sense in hopes to make big income later on, the select few that hold out and look for that right calling are viewed as lazy and unmotivated. Bruce isn't perfect in the slightest and has his own faults to speak of, but the fact Corolla, as a co-writer and an actor, won't sugarcoat those shows he recognizes those faults and portrays them in a humanizing light.
Road Hard is another film made about comedians by a comedian, showing the kind of lifestyle that entails for a person who does everything in their power to make another person laugh. One character in the film remarks how it's not that the person on stage telling jokes at that particular time is the most important individual but no one else in the room is the least bit relevant. It's all them and one of the few times in the world where all eyes are on you and nothing is expected of anyone else. Road Hard examines different facets and components of Bruce's life that sadden and liven in equal parts, making for a shockingly uplifting experience for the emotions. Above all, however, it's hysterically funny and appropriately poignantly.