A man eating an apple is by far the most dramatic thing that happens in the poky first hour of writer-director Joel Potrykus’s fascinating nervous-breakdown drama Ape.
Not yet realizing that his career is kaput, dreadful comedian Trevor (Joshua Burge) confesses to his tiny audience, “I don’t want to tell jokes.” The apple is his biggest professional coup so far — a guy in a devil costume gave him the fruit in exchange for a gag — so Trevor had been proudly carrying it with him for a few days.
He munches on the apple in real time, over about three minutes, exhausted but trying to pass off his snack as a meta-joke about stand-up routines. But Trevor isn’t a sad clown; he’s an angry one. (Is there any other kind?) Though his small apartment is covered in goofy Steve Martin posters, he whiles away his daylight hours starting fires.
With his cartoon lips and too-big-to-be-beautiful eyes, Burge is faultlessly cast as an awkward, disturbed loner who looks like a much nicer guy than he really is. In the film’s vivid, compellingly jumbled last half-hour, when Trevor’s life spirals precipitously downward after he attacks a heckler on stage, Potrykus offers a variety of intriguing suggestions about the relationship between laughter and violence, performance and destruction.
But Ape is ultimately less interested in exploring these ideas than in play. The extended conclusion provides a pleasant head-scratcher that should have viewers arguing over what exactly happened, while adding new dimensions to the earlier insights into comedy and aggression.