SXSW 2024: THE GUTTER Brings Back the Goofball Sports Comedy

Full of sharp social commentary and sweet silliness, this new bowling comedy from the Lester Brothers spares no one.

Sports movies are a dynamic genre. You can give a straight down the middle emotional drama about overcoming the odds. You can make a dark look at the cultures of athletics. Or you can lean into the inherent silliness of grown people playing games for money.

For the Lester brothers, the directors of the new comedy The Gutter, you opt for sneaking the second into the third and mostly give a big middle finger to the first. The plot of The Gutter in the grand strokes is extremely familiar, feeling like a rehash of 1996 cable comedy classic Kingpin. But what Isaiah and Yessir Lester add to the formula is a relentless barrage of jokes that are equally absurd and barbed, ravaging the double standards in sports coverage within a broadly appealing silliness.

Shameik Moore stars as Walt, a young black man bouncing off the walls with seemingly unending energy. After he gets a job at a local bowling alley (mostly out of sympathy,) he befriends Skunk (D’Arcy Carden), a former pro bowler who spends her days drinking at the alley. When the bowling alley faces a steep renovation price or face the reality of the building being condemned, Skunk and Walt hatch a plan for him to win the money for the alley. Yes, that’s the plot; no it’s not the 1990s again.

The story however mostly serves as a gateway for the Lesters’ brand of humor to shine through. Chaotic, outrageous and unapologetically silly, all of the movie’s humor is embodied in Moore’s performance of Walt. He spouts off whatever he had in mind, refuses to wear a shirt unless absolutely necessary, and can’t stop dancing. Moore’s physicality is impressive, hypnotic and most importantly drop-out-of-your seat funny. His performance has all the child-like charm of early Adam Sandler alongside a physic precision closer to a dancer. He is certainly never standing still, often vibrating and shouting one-liners at a nonstop barrage.

Beyond the simple silliness however is a strong streak of social commentary. This is most evident in the plotline focusing on how the wider bowling world responds to Walt’s sudden ascension, both their discomfort in saying the quiet racist subtext of their commentary out loud, but also because Walt’s admittedly outrageous behavior “challenges” the status quo. The point is clear: black people can play white sports, as long as they agree to not be “too black” about it.

This position is mostly voiced by Paul Resier, a sports commentator who tracks Walt’s rise on his television show Bowl Lived Matter. Reset is hilarious, tapping into a different tone of his on screen to be less affable and more like…a pent up racist. His scummiest performance since Aliens.

But Reiser isn’t the only ringer that the Lesters recruited for their villainous, hapless white folk. There is also Susan Sarandon, giving a camp master performance as the traditional bowling champion, Linda Curson. Linda is a text book villain, but the cartoons following she has amongst exclusively white bowling fans underlines how she represents the chance to right things back to normal. Conceited and outlandish in her own way, Linda fills out the classic sports comedy feel the movie tracks in.

On paper, The Gutter would be easy to dismiss as a throwback slobs vs snobs lark. But the amount of unapologetic social commentary and absolute shotgun approach to joke delivery will be a safe solace to fans who like their comedies to be both very clever and very, very stupid.

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