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Review: Jimmy Yang elevates decent 'The Opening Act'

Courtesy of RLJE Film


From writer/director Steve Byrne - a longtime stand-up comedian - comes “The Opening Act,” a modestly funny look into the livelihood of struggling comics. From Bill Burr to Whitney Cummings, the film isn’t short on cameos as the filmmakers have called in plenty of favors, but “The Opening Act” is an homage to their profession and showcases the pains of getting big when starting from the bottom. It also allows the viewer to understand what the system is like for newcomers while fostering a positive message around rejection. 

Jimmy Yang - usually the token clown you’ve seen in “Like A Boss” and “Fantasy Island” - brings his obnoxious attitude down to earth as Will, an aspiring stand-up comedian who spent his childhood watching old comics with his dad. Will’s day job is selling insurance - where he’s often given grief by his boss (Burr) - but his passion for performing at open mic nights is what drives him. As Will quickly finds out, the competition for a set time is stiff, with the club and venues requiring performers to bring two paying customers in exchange for valuable minutes under the lights. Aided by his understanding girlfriend (Debby Ryan who is criminally underused), Will gets his break when pal Quinn (Ken Jeong) lands him a gig at the Philadelphia Improv, emceeing for popular comic Billy G (Cedric The Entertainer). 

Will makes the trek from Ohio and ends up becoming roommates with Chris (SNL’s Alex Moffat) a freewheeling comedian that doesn’t play by the rules, while club owner Chip (Neal Brennan) keeps a close, watchful eye on the fresh talent. But Will discovers that telling jokes isn’t just about the punchlines, or being funny for shock value. The jokes need to have heart and come from spur of the moment intuition. 

Bryne is preaching to the choir on this one as “The Opening Act” does little to differentiate itself from the plethora of redemptive flicks about hustling comedians. Sure “Act” has passion, but it doesn’t spend much time getting to understand Will as a person and the editing can seem choppy with jokes feeling like rejected pitches from SNL. The insurance career subplot is meandering and there’s one sequence where Will helps a drunk sorority girl find her way home, which goes from bad to worse to unfunny in a matter of seconds. 

Such is the unpredictability of being a working comic out in the field, or that’s what “The Opening Act” would seem to suggest. Still, Bryne keeps things light, immersive, and breezy, not pushing the boundaries of his script or characters beyond their capabilities with Yang making the biggest impression among a sea of comedic giants. They’re plenty of moments for the big guys to get in a laugh or two, but “The Opening Act” is a terrific showcase for Yang who was never taken seriously in his other projects. Even if the film has wonky foundational issues, at least he’s finally given a worthy vehicle to deliver genuine laughs that feel earned and not forced. 

Grade: B- 

THE OPENING ACT is now available from digital retailers


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