Hmm… looks pretty good.
So it looks like it’s about a stand-up comedian who gets in trouble when an audience member upsets him and things possibly get a little violent. Violent enough to do community service and ends up in a soup kitchen and meets a younger woman and the two strike up a friendship, and likely a romance as the story progresses, while his reputation gets bolstered in the more offbeat gigs that he accepts, particularly in retirement homes. I gotta say, it looks charming.
Well, lets take a look at the cast. We have the legend himself, Robert De Niro. Does this man need an intro? HANDS OF STONE (2016), THE GODFATHER: PART II (1974), MEET THE PARENTS (2000), the list reaches from sea to shining sea. I mean, what can you say about the man? He’s awesome, he’s hilarious, he’s a cinematic icon and continues to be one and will continue to be one forevermore. Anyone want to argue? Didn’t think so. Up next, Leslie Mann, whom you’ve seen in HOW TO BE SINGLE (2016), KNOCKED UP (2007), and GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE (1997). I really like this woman. I think she’s incredibly charismatic, even if the movie itself isn’t very good. I wouldn’t say that she’s my favorite funnywoman, but she’s up there as a name that’s always welcomed. Finally, Danny DeVito, known for WIENER-DOG (2016), THE LORAX (2012), and MATILDA (1996). I know the man found a nice cinematic home on the TV show ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, but his name isn’t seen very much in movies. I’m sure no one’s complaining, the man’s got steady work, but… damn, I miss seeing him on the big screen. Despite his diminutive stature, the man was a giant to me as a kid. Other talents include Harvey Keitel (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL , U-571 , and RESERVOIR DOGS ), Edie Falco (THE QUIET , and TV shows NURSE JACKIE and THE SOPRANOS), and Billy Crystal (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY , AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS , and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… ).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Taylor Hackford, known for PARKER (2013), RAY (2004), and THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE (1997). Oh no… red flag alert! Four writers: Art Linson, Jeffrey Ross, Richard LaGravenese, and Lewis Friedman. Neither Linson nor Friedman are known for much, save for Friedman’s BASEKETBALL (1998), and Ross is known only for writing a lot of television comedy sketches. Only LaGravenese has any real experience writing film, including UNBROKEN (2014), FREEDOM WRITERS (2007), and A LITTLE PRINCESS (1995). Composing the music is Terence Blanchard, known for CHI-RAQ (2015), BARBERSHOP (2002), and MALCOLM X (1992). Finally, the cinematographer is Oliver Stapleton, known for HOT PURSUIT (2015), THE PROPOSAL (2009), and HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIEN PEOPLE (2008).
Overall, I think I’ll enjoy this movie, but despite that nice first impression, early ratings seem to be a little… less than enthused. IMDb has it as a 4.8/10 (as of 1/28/2017) and RottenTomatoes has it at a 31% (as of 1/28/2017). Oh no…
This is my honest opinion of: THE COMEDIAN
Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is a stand up insult comedian who also used to be the star of a hit TV show. After getting on stage for a gig, a heckler in the crowd intending to make Jackie look bad, using a camera for another TV show. This enrages Jackie to the point of assaulting the man, which lands him in jail for a time. By the time he gets out, the remainder of his sentence is through community service at a soup kitchen, where he meets a fellow former inmate doing her community service as well named Harmony Schiltz (Leslie Mann). Though the two have a rocky relationship to start, she eventually agrees to go on a single outing with him, which results in a fun time together. They meet each other’s families, both resulting in disaster, and the two realizing that maybe they have feelings for each other.
I don’t think I understand those low ratings. I kinda liked this movie. By no means flawless, but I don’t think it was that bad.
So the star attraction is De Niro, and I think he did a pretty good job. He does have fun mannerisms that are very much like a real stand-up. He looks natural on a stage with a mic, and I have to admit, his comedic timing is solid. I laughed. Not all the time, sure, some jokes do fall a little flat. And you can tell in certain scenes that because some of the jokes aren’t that funny, the crowd laughs anyway, it does have this tendency to break immersion.
But by far my favorite character is Mann. Why am I not more of a fan of hers!? She has this unbelievable charm and cuteness about her that is so contagious. Every time she’s on screen, I just can’t help but be glued to her. I love Harmony’s interactions with her father. They have this complicated relationship where he wants her to come back to her home and serve out her sentence where she does good work helping the elderly, but she likes working in the soup kitchen and the two characters butt heads a lot. I like how even though he drives her absolutely crazy, she still musters a cutsie peck on his cheek and tells him that she loves him with this underlying, “but you’re an asshole” vibe. In retrospect, I think she was funnier than Jackie. Bar none, Mann stole the show for me. I really need to see more movies with her.
Another aspect that I kind of enjoyed was, as weird as this may sound, the many reactions to the jokes in the movie from the in-movie audiences. Some of the jokes, funny or not, did get the occasional mixed reaction. Some of the jokes that may not have been that funny, not everyone in the crowd was laughing. Maybe you hear a couple chuckles here and there. It worked the other way around too. When a genuinely good joke was made, the majority of the audience was laughing, as well as the real-world audience. It’s like the writers intentionally made some jokes unbearable to listen to, and others genuinely funny. Maybe that’s where some of the hate for the movie comes from; that was obvious to them, whereas it wasn’t obvious to me, and therefore, I found it impressive. I feel like it would have been too easy to half-ass some of these jokes and just pay the poor extras in these venues to fake laugh at every one of them, even if they were groan-worthy. But no, the reactions felt real to me.
But for all the good things I think it did, there are a few missteps.
For one, I can’t imagine that every stand-up walks around between gigs acting like they’re still on a stage performing. In retrospect, stand-up is just an act in itself. The comedians may genuinely believe the things they’re saying, but don’t spend every waking moment of the day spouting out one liners. I can’t believe that when Iliza Shlesinger is just casually going to the store to buy groceries that when the cashier offers her change back that she’s cracking loud jokes. She’d be courteous and polite. You know, like a normal person. This is about the only real problem that I had with Jackie’s character is that sometimes he breaks from his normalcy and randomly becomes a performer for no reason.
I also don’t know why DeVito was getting so much hype from the critics. He’s barely in this. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t some glorified cameo or anything, nor is he bad in the scenes he’s in. Hell, if anything, he’s very charismatic and funny. But he’s barely a supporting character. The way the trailer made it out to be, it looked like he’d be a pretty major player. Kind of a let down when he isn’t.
Also, there are some major contrivances that hurt the film. Toward the end of the second act, it’s revealed that Jackie once had a wife and son. But he wasn’t there for either of them and his son died of a drug overdose. While tragic, there is no lead-in for this information about him. You would never guess that this man was struggling with life choices and hardships. He’s a comic who’s an asshole, but you wouldn’t guess that it was a personal tragedy that put him on that path. Hell, that isn’t even the explanation for his attitude. It’s just an unimportant piece of information, or rather a highly important piece of information that should have played a bigger part in the overall film instead of the final act of the movie.
When it’s revealed that Harmony is pregnant with his child, the movie suddenly turns into a bad soap opera with Jackie getting angry at her for being pregnant and she getting mad at him for blaming her for it, it’s a cliché-fest that hurts the final act pretty horribly. Jackie becomes an unlikable person because it’s only in these moments that his feelings are revealed. It’s not built up properly, nor is the audience given any reason to see the reasons why he’s so upset. What if Jackie never really wanted to sleep with Harmony and it was just a drunken one-night stand? I think it’s almost unnecessary to see the two leads get together in a romantic way, but I can’t help what is.
As a whole, maybe the movie was trying to be two different movies, but ultimately became a mess half-way through. I still stand by that De Niro and Mann are great and have fun chemistry and it is pretty funny for the most part. But the final act and its uninspired plot turns make it pretty hard to sit through. I can only recommend this is you think you can muster through the final act of the film, where all the problems are. If you can do that, I think this is a solid watch. As for me, I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t think I’d ever revisit this. I love the two leads, and they save it for the most part, but the imperfections are too great to ignore.
My honest rating for THE COMEDIAN: 3/5