Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Taylor Hackford
Written by: Art Linson, Jeffrey Ross, Lewis Friedman, Richard LaGravenese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Edie Falco, Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 11/18/16
Opens: January 13, 2017
You may think that the new vulgarity in the U.S. makes its presence felt only in films produced by Judd Apatow and others of his ilk. Taylor Hackford thinks otherwise. You get the impression by watching the jokes told by Jerry Burke (Robert De Niro) that comedy clubs need grossness to bring in a young audience. For that matter, the old folks seems mostly to like it as well, cheering every punch line in their home for the elderly in Del Ray, Florida, though Jerry is jeered and heckled in the New York clubs. Vulgarity is fine if the gags are fresh: original and truly funny. But based on Robert De Niro’s performance in “The Comedian,” we in the audience must wonder. Are we supposed to be pleased that an older man is still able to strut his stuff in clubs that are patronized largely by the 18-24 year-old set, or should we pity this figure, who takes up with a much younger woman, the daughter of a sleazy man who could be part of the mob?
Director Taylor Hackford, an older man himself at 72 who has directed movies that could serve as Hallmark Cards (“An Officer and a Gentleman” for example), finds Jackie Burke short on money, trying to revive the career he enjoyed on a TV sitcom where he played a fellow named Eddie.” He is still stopped everywhere by people who think “I know him from somewhere,” but he has to ask his brother (Danny DeVito), who runs a successful delicatessen in New York, for a $5,000 loan. After serving a 30-day sentence in the Nassau jail for hitting a heckler with a microphone, he does community service at a soup kitchen where he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), likewise serving for assaulting her husband whom she catches in flagrante.
Despite their age difference, they hit it off much to the disapproval of her father, Mac (Harvey Keitel), who seems ready to do worse things to the comedian than heckle.
Much of the action takes places on the stage: in the old folks’ home, he has the majority of seniors in a community sing centered on “Making Poopy.” He is no slouch on impromptu gags, asking people in the audience what they did in better times, and playing up to them by asking them to tell their own stories.
Of course Jackie has a falling out with Harmony, tries to get back into her graces in much the way he is trying his material on a new audience. There is one extended scene at a wedding of his brother’s daughter, a lesbian, featuring Jewish dances and similar types of humor. Wherever he goes he gets audiences that are mixed: some love him, some are embarrassed by him. But all recognize him from his TV show in better days. He just does not know when to quit.
Overall, the film does have a good ensemble including Cloris Leachman as a 95-year-old who appreciates the dirty jokes, taking off with them; Charles Grodin, who as an emcee is embarrassed by him; and Patti LuPone who makes faces whenever she is in contact with him. A strange, unfunny cameo lasting for about two minutes with Billy Crystal doesn’t help. The enterprise is too loosely directed. The whole scenario seems on auto-pilot, the jokes appear impromptu rather than thought out, and though the movie was picked up by the prestigious Sony Pictures Classics, it simply does not connect.
Unrated. 120 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – C+