Hot Docs 2015: Committed
When I started watching Committed, I thought it was some sort of elaborate joke on the part of co-directors Howie Mandel, Reed Grinsell and Steve Sunshine. The film starts with Vic Cohen, a longtime aspiring comedian, performing a set to an empty room. Mandel explains that, when he had a talk show in the late 1990s, he received daily joke pitches from Cohen. Mandel was taken by Cohen’s commitment (expect to hear that word repeated endlessly), and eventually hired him on the show as a writer. Since then, Mandel has become friends with Cohen, spending the last 13 years filming their interactions.
From the beginning, the documentary’s point is clear: Cohen isn’t particularly good at comedy. He’s actually pretty bad at it, with most of his jokes relying on stripping down to his underwear for cheap laughs. But, as Mandel repeatedly states throughout, Cohen has a relentlessly optimistic attitude and a drive to keep doing what he loves, and that alone is plenty admirable. I mean, sure, Cohen’s outlook on life is easy to admire, but Committed sure does a piss-poor job of effectively showing it.
If anything, Committed shows Cohen as someone who got lucky when he got the attention of a famous comic. The filmed segments, all of them feeling like they came from a failed attempt at making the same film years earlier, come across as mean-spirited, with Mandel making Cohen do things like audition for the role of a munchkin or a Rockettes dancer. There’s really nothing funny or inspiring about these clips. They’re just lame attempts to get some laughter out of watching Cohen make himself look like a fool.
There is one highlight early on when Mandel lets Cohen open for him at a live show, even though Cohen, who just declared his intention to do stand-up, doesn’t have any material written out yet. Cohen and Mandel wind up meeting Debbie Reynolds before the show, and she gives Cohen a silly suggestion for what to do on stage. Cohen actually takes her half-hearted advice, and takes it to such an extreme that his debut performance winds up alienating the crowd before eventually winning them over. Cohen’s “routine” (if one could call it that) is the only legitimately funny moment in all of Committed, and the only part that encapsulates everything the film is going for thematically. Unfortunately, Committed turns into something far more nasty, stale, and unfunny from there.