Louis C.K.’s ‘Tomorrow Night’ is a revealing feature debut

Louis C.K.'s feature directorial debut, 1998's "Tomorrow Night," stars Chuck Sklar as a cantankerous loner. Credit: Provided
Louis C.K.’s feature directorial debut, 1998′s “Tomorrow Night,” stars Chuck Sklar as a cantankerous loner.
Credit: Provided

‘Tomorrow Night’
Director: Louis C.K.
Stars: Chuck Sklar, Martha Greenhouse
3 (out of 5) Globes
Where to buy: Louis C.K.’s website

It took a long time for the mainstream to come around to Louis C.K. Before his hit FX show, “Louie,” lies a trail of commercial (not to say artistic) failures. No one much watched his first TV show, the anti-sitcom “Lucky Louie,” and the 2001 meta satire “Pootie Tang” was long a punchline, loved only by a precious few who got on its strange wavelength. (It’s worth noting that the comic was very successful working with Chris Rock and Robert Smigel, as well as on the writing staff of “Saturday Night Live” among others.)

At 46, he can finally do whatever he wants. “Louie” is a full-on auteur project, which he writes, directs, edits and stars in, tackling whatever odd subjects he likes. He can even grant new life to works that once met with chilly indifference. Recently, he made “Tomorrow Night,” his feature directorial debut, available on his website. It premiered at Sundance in 1998, but was unable to secure a distributor. Now anyone can download it for $5, and many probably will — because it’s a film by Louis C.K, whose every vulgar utterance goes viral.

It’s here that one would normally give “Tomorrow Night” a condescending appraisal, noting that it’s a sign of greatness to come but, on its own, remains too unwieldy to appreciate as more than a completionist curio. And that’s not wrong. Designed to be off-putting, “Tomorrow Night” is a black-and-white 16mm character study of Charles (Chuck Sklar), a loner who owns a photo store. (The love for old school analogue technology must have seemed strange even in the late ‘90s.) He’s young but has the cantankerous attitude of a man thrice his age. By day he gives the cold shoulder to his scant clientele; by night he engages in a wacky sexual fetish involving ice cream.

That last bit is the most notable — and not only — example of the broad, even juvenile tendencies he got out of his system with “Tomorrow Night” (and surely with the many shows he worked on). It’s true he would eventually pare his work down to the precise, handmade quality that marks every episode of “Louie.” But his detached, bemused view of human misery was always there.

Charles is never likable, and only briefly suggests a melancholy undertone. C.K. orchestrates for him to fall for an older woman (Martha Greenhouse). That may make it sound quirky-indie, but this isn’t “Harold and Maude.” She’s no free spirit, but a slightly batty whiner with an abusive grotesque of a husband. Their courtship isn’t terribly romantic or exciting. (“I find your tidiness to be appealing,” is Charles’ version of a come-on.) Moreover, it doesn’t go the way one would imagine, and one could even picture a less absurdist version of this tale of disappointment winding up in a future “Louie.”

Because C.K. was a staffer on late night comedy shows, many familiar faces pop up, notably Steve Carell and Robert Smigel, who play giggling Army mail room staffers who torture a dim private seemingly lifted out of a stiff 1950s education film. His former boss, Conan O’Brien, even crops up for a bitter parody of late night joke-flinging. This brief bit might be the most revealing part of “Tomorrow Night.” There’s a strong trace of suffocation in the film, made by a struggling comic confined to working on the margins of mainstream comedy. This film is his chance to break out, mostly by acting out.

Throughout the film runs a passion for the underground New York City cinema of the 1960s and its resurgence in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which is filtered through a late ‘90s smart-ass comic sensibility. The shots are grainy and immobile, held a few beats too long. It’s part Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” part “Eraserhead.” (The opening shot is almost a David Lynch parody, with a dread frog floating in a puddle in the rain.) Like “Pootie Tang” and “Lucky Louie,” it’s the work of a smart and aware artist actively antagonizing the audience. That C.K. would one day no longer care who he was making his work for seems to have done the trick.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter at @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…