The Pity Card is 13-minute comedic short directed by Bob Odenkirk in 2006. The film features several known actors including Simon Helberg, Bill Hader, and Zack Galifianakis, so the comedic aspect was essentially a lock from the start of filming. Originally, The Pity Card was filmed as a pilot for HBO; it was intended as a spinoff of a show titled Derek and Simon: The Show. Because of this, the film was essentially unseen until recently picked up and distributed by WHOLPIN as a short film and added to YouTube’s ‘Screening Room.’
The way the film is shot reminds me of a documentary-type film, using a handheld camera and following the actors along to the party. I assume the intent was to give the feel that the viewer is in attendance; however, I don’t feel the attempt was successful, and I think a stationary camera would have improved the overall quality of the short.
The general topic of the film is rather crass, and could very well offend a number of viewers who go in unprepared. Helberg and crew make light of various atrocities and war, with the Holocaust as their main target. This is the type of film that many will find funny, and most will wonder if it is appropriate to laugh. A standard example of deadpan comedy.
The dialog within the film is what truly makes it funny, and there is an effective rapport between the actors, making for naturally flowing conversations. While the idea of a girl devastated after recently learning if the Holocaust may be humorous for awhile, the constant harping on the subject does tire after a short time. This issue is countered by the small, yet hilarious part of Galifianakis. Every so often, in the midst of Holocaust humor, Galifianakis pops his head in with his now well-known humor; hilarious, yet barely related to the events occurring. “You said foot rot? Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Had it. Both feet. I’ve had feet rot.” Lines like these coupled with effective delivery allow Galifianakis to steal the show even in a rather minimal role.
Clearly, depth was not the intent of this film; there is essentially none. However, even this film, with it’s sight set on comedy, makes a rather serious point to its viewers. Helberg eventually reaches his limit and exclaims, “WHO CARES ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?!” While this line may be the most offensive in the entire film, with it comes the advice to live in the present. Harping on the past will only cause frustration.
This film is definitely worth seeing, especially as a fan of Galifianakis, just don’t expect a life-changing message. I completely understand why HBO decided to pass when it was presented as a pilot. With such sensitive subjects it is easy to offend, even in the lighthearted atmosphere the film manages to present. It’s lack of substance also had me wondering how it would survive as a recurring show. I felt that by the end of it’s 15 minutes, the novelty had worn off. The only way this work survives is as a short film; in that context, though, the film has potential.