Ha. Ha. Ha. Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is a icon in the world of comedy, making his name as “Eddie,” a famous television character he played years as. It’s all anyone wants to see when he does stand-up now. When he just performs as Jackie, no one cares about his reinvention, and his routine often suffers for it.
The aging comic ends up getting physical with a audience heckler, and is forced to serve 30 days in jail. Upon coming out of imprisonment, he meets Harmony Schiltzstein (Leslie Mann), a woman who is attempting to reinvent herself. What starts out as simple friendly company for unwanted responsibilities and social functions ends up becoming a more solid companionship then the two realized was possible.
One could mistake The Comedian, the latest movie featuring Robert De Niro, as a Dirty Grandpa clone without Zac Efron. It’s almost as crass, but a lot less juvenile. So if the similarities to that movie are there, why is this one a better watch?
For one main reason, The Comedian is a lot more believable. Believable isn’t something a film has to be (much less a comedy), but let’s just say that a crude old man chasing youth and an endless supply of sex and drugs on spring break stretches the realm of possibility. In The Comedian, director Taylor Hackford (Ray, The Devil’s Advocate) places De Niro’s Jackie into a world where his character is fictional, but most around him are not. It gives Jackie more credence as a older comic when he interacts with people like Jimmie Walker, Hannibal Buress, and Billy Crystal, and he’s treated like an equal. The world here and structure feels a little like Chris Rock’s feature a few years back, Top Five, with a jazzy soundtrack/score that evokes a bygone era.
De Niro himself is probably the funniest he’s ever been since Meet the Parents. That’s not to say that there aren’t low points in his performance, as some of his jokes are too one note and surface-level, but they’re few and far between. He commands the stage and showcases a level of charisma that hasn’t been seen in most of his recent movies. The spotlight is clearly his here, but others play prominent roles.
Leslie Mann shares good chemistry with De Niro, and the two become intertwined in something that looks to be predictable and then, is not. She’s not playing too much different of a role than what has become typical of her, but it works well enough regardless. Names like Edie Falco, Danny DeVito, and Patti LuPone make appearances, mainly in an effort to round out De Niro’s character.
As a comedy, subjectively speaking, The Comedian nalis more times than not. But, it’s not a perfect movie because it isn’t purely a comedy. Really, The Comedian is a character study, or at least fancies itself as one. Intriguing questions about 21st century fame and the nature of comedy are posed. However, the screenplay never answers or goes deep into them. Furthermore, most character studies often feature a noticeable arc that the main character goes through. Come the end of the film, it is debatable as to how much Jackie truly evolves, if at all, and it ends up leaving the film not as resounding emotionally as I believe it intends to be.
Still, The Comedian provides De Niro with his best feature vehicle in quite some time, which kind of deserves a small round of applause. Not a flawless routine, but not a joke, either.
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