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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

The Opening Act: Review

The Opening Act is the latest comedy to take an intimate look at stand-up comedians milieu (Funny People and Dolemite is My Name stand out). Starring Jimmy O Yang, a stand-up turned actor with a surging career path after roles in Silicon Valley and Space Force, this low-key hangout comedy elicits a personal reflection on stand-up’s rocky road to self-actualization on stage.

The film follows Will Chu (Yang), an aspiring stand-up stuck in the doldrums of his miserable insurance job (boss played by Bill Burr). When he’s recommended by a peer Quinn (Ken Jeong) to MC for the famed stand-up Billy G (Cedric the Entertainer), Will quits his job to pursue his longtime dream.

Much of this narrative rests on the shoulders of Jimmy O Yang’s central performance. Thankfully, Yang is up for the task, with the comedian imbuing his charismatic comedic persona to enhance the character’s archetype conception. His act has an earnestness that resonated with me, as he’s unafraid to poke fun at himself and the pre-conceived notions people have about him. Yang also portrays the character’s roller-coaster journey with emotional sincerity, thoughtfully weaving his own experiences on the road to becoming a stand-up figure (the closing credits share personal reflections of the star’s first sets).

The Opening Act is admittedly shaggy (director Steven Byrne‘s visual style lacks dynamic traits), but the film is crafted with an infectious adoration for its subject. Involving an array of acclaimed stand-ups, Byrne’s film is at its best when the focus delves into the delicate process of a comedian finding their voice. The script doesn’t sugarcoat the journey with superficial pleasantries, finding a comfortable balance between the aspiration and despair upcoming talents come to terms with. Supporting players like Cedric the Entertainer, Bill Burr, and Ken Jeong personify their roles with their distinct personas, with Cedric portraying the old-timer Billy G with an assured swagger.

This film is rarely unpleasant, yet it also never pushes the audience’s expectations. Byrne’s screenplay incorporates B-plots the lack static development, including Will’s girlfriend and friends who merely stand as supportive staples. The lack of ingenuity is further marred by the mixed track record of laughs. When the film steers away from its stand-up material, overly-scripted gags often land with an awkward thud (a bit involving an awkward date goes nowhere).

It’s allures may be relatively slight, but The Opening Act still succeeds as an agreeable foray into the stand-up scene.


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