Friday, February 03, 2017

“The Comedian”– Movie Review




This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy-drama, “The Comedian”, starring Robert De Niro.


When a veteran comic tries to revive his career, he becomes his own worst enemy – but when he has a chance meeting with a woman who is similarly disadvantaged, can the two help each other turn their life around?


Thirty years ago, Jackie Burke (De Niro) was at the height of his career, starring in a hit situation comedy on television.  Now, however, his career as a stand-up comedian has pretty much bottomed-out.  Not even his agent (Edie Falco) can offer very many words of encouragement in terms of job prospects.  At a gig in Long Island, Jackie gets into a fight with a heckler and winds up giving him a severe beating; as a result, Jackie winds up going to jail for a month and upon his release, is severely limited in terms of opportunities because he must perform community service.  

One bright spot about his situation is that Jackie gets to meet Harmony (Leslie Mann), who is also being forced into community service after a violent confrontation with her ex-boyfriend.  Harmony is sort of lost and, without much in the way of career direction, is being forced by her willful father (Harvey Keitel) to leave New York in order to work at his retirement community in Florida.   As Jackie and Harmony spend more time together, they find that they are hitting it off and are genuinely attracted to each other – either in spite of or because of the fact that her father doesn’t like Jackie. 

Eventually, Harmony relents and leaves New York City for Florida, taking the job working for her father.  While Jackie continues trying to resuscitate a career that by now is on life support, he still hasn’t completely written off Harmony – but she may not feel exactly the same way.  Despite Jackie’s many attempts to reach out to her, Harmony eventually stops responding.  Not believing she has lost interest, Jackie heads to Florida with the hopes of confronting her about their relationship.  But when she surprises him with the reason why she has been aloof, can Jackie win her back while simultaneously reinventing himself as a comedian?


Viewing “The Comedian” is both depressing and difficult.  Depressing because the collection of talent involved could not find a way to create a semblance of an entertaining movie.  Difficult to watch because the jokes aren’t funny (the laughter of the audiences in the film notwithstanding, of course).  There is nothing clever about the jokes, which is a bit surprising given that one of the screenplay’s credits goes to Jeff Ross, who is known for being a successful stand-up comedian, particularly known for his roasts (many of which have been televised).  

As far as De Niro’s performance is concerned, this will likely not be remembered as one of his best; he is without a doubt most unconvincing as a stand-up comedian.  Very often, it has been found that good comedians can become decent actors but the reverse is usually not true – actors usually can’t successfully portray comedians.  The starkly different skill sets are neither transferrable nor easily learned, no matter how much time one might spend observing stand-ups at comedy clubs or talking with them (both things that De Niro allegedly did in “researching” this role). 

It is by no means an exaggeration to say that no one in the audience at this screening laughed at any of the stand-up comedy scenes, De Niro’s in particular.  They sat stone-faced staring at the screen, apparently anticipating moments at which they could be able to laugh (not an unreasonable expectation, given the title of the movie).  Why they didn’t cast an actual comedian in this role is a mystery; much of the rest of the cast come across funnier than the film’s star.  As an actor, De Niro is among the best there is; as a comedian, De Niro is a great actor (but obviously not great enough to make you believe that he really is a comedian).   

The Comedian (2016) on IMDb

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