Starring Eddie Pepitone, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, Sean Conroy, Marc Maron, Andy Kindler
Directed by Steven Feinartz
Expectations: Super, super high.
The prospect of reviewing The Bitter Buddha is fairly distressing to me. I first heard Eddie on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and couldn’t believe that I hadn’t already heard of someone as hilarious as him. Later, I learned that Eddie was the recurring heckler character on Conan that I always loved, so that made me feel a little better. If I didn’t know his name, at least I knew his raving voice. I’ve become a big Eddie Pepitone fan over the last few years, and have followed along with the film’s production vicariously through Eddie’s social media and whatever mentions it got on Eddie’s podcast, The Long Shot. I know many of the stand-up bits featured here, and I’ve heard all the audio versions of the podcast stuff. So sitting down to watch the film feels somewhat like watching a movie that I was around for the production of. In the age of Internet entitlement, all we have to do to be a part of something is to merely experience it through a pair of tinny ear buds. There is clearly no hope for the human race.
The Bitter Buddha chronicles a few months in the life of Eddie Pepitone, one of the funniest guys ever to hit the stand-up stage. And when I say it chronicles a few months, I mean it. The film never delves much into Eddie’s past. There’s never any narration to guide us through his troubled early years in comedy, nor is there a touching 10-minute version of his childhood. The Bitter Buddha is laser-focused on the present (which in this film was 2011) and it only seeks to give you a picture of who Eddie is and what his career is like now. Which is to say, it details a lot of anger, frustration and tweeting. But there’s also cat and squirrel feeding, which offers a wonderful example of Eddie’s duality. When told that Eddie visits the park to feed squirrels, Patton Oswalt simply can’t imagine the scene. His first thought is Eddie viciously throwing nuts at the squirrels. But, of course, this isn’t the case, as Eddie harbors a genuine love of animals and of life’s small details, relishing a quick moment when a squirrel’s paw touches his gift-giving hand.
Mid-way through the film, Eddie listens to Eckhart Tolle in his car. In one shot he carefully listens while he drives, presumably soaking up the essence of the teachings during the meditative drone of driving through L.A.’s urban sprawl. But then Eddie yells furiously at what seems like another car on the road. He’s meditative, but yet still a raging inferno. And then he changes again, now yelling at Eckhart Tolle, calling the author out on the bullshit of his words. There’s definitely some acting within this scene (it feels somewhat dramatized), but it doesn’t feel disingenuous. Eddie, like many of us, embodies all three of these manifestations of himself — meditative, angry, and hypocritical. There’s definitely comedy in exaggerating certain aspects of each in this moment, but I feel it’s more to drive a point home than to fool anyone.
The film is fairly unfocused, though, basically just following Eddie around, capturing whatever it is he happens to be doing. This could be anything from performing stand-up to sifting through a pile of old photos, and oftentimes the meaning of it all is left up to the viewer to distill. This is both good and bad, as viewers familiar with Eddie will enjoy watching Eddie in various states of rage, while viewers unfamiliar with him might find it tiring and pointless. There is a big show that Eddie and the documentary work towards, and it provides the film with a nice climax, but it never feels like there’s an overall point to the documentary. Some might call this a bad thing, but I found it very zen-like, simply providing the viewers with information and allowing them to ruminate and extrapolate their own meanings from it. The Bitter Buddha captures the life of a struggling, middle-aged comic very well, but in today’s age I think people might expect a documentary to hold their hand a bit more than this one does.
As a fan, I also find it interesting (and somewhat disappointing) that the film only chronicles up to the Gotham show in New York. That show happened near the end of 2011, and since then Eddie went on to do something like 23 shows in 24 days (I think I got that right) at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, and is now touring around the country. It would seem that Eddie’s star is definitely on the rise at the moment; he’s like the next Justin Bieber, only with less hair and lot more rage.
I’m unsure if this review really serves a purpose other than to allow me a long-form forum to voice how much I love Eddie Pepitone. Because I already enjoy his comedy so much, and I consume all his podcast episodes, I am the choir to Eddie’s preacher. For those unfamiliar with him, your mileage will definitely vary with The Bitter Buddha, but don’t let that discourage you from watching the film. If you’re the type of person to find comedy amidst the rubble of the economic apocalypse, or if you think that America is a country lost in a cesspool of despair, then you will enjoy Eddie’s comedy. The movie could be a little better focused and it does drag in spots, but for the fans, this is a gift.
The Bitter Buddha is now available through iTunes and various VOD services! Check it out!