From Sony Pictures Classics, director Taylor Hackford (Ray, The Devil’s Advocate) and Cinelou Films, comes The Comedian. Starring Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman and Harvey Keitel, the film hits theaters February 3, 2017.
Jackie Burke, an aging comic icon, has seen better days. Despite his efforts to reinvent himself and his comic genius, the audience only wants to know him as the former television character he once played. Already a strain on his younger brother and his wife, Jackie is forced to serve out a sentence doing community service for accosting an audience member. While there, he meets Harmony, the daughter of a sleazy Florida real estate mogul, and the two find inspiration in each other.
In the vein of Adam Carolla’s Road Hard, which saw an ageing stand-up trying to deal with the shenanigans of touring various comedy clubs, director Taylor Hackford has delivered Robert De Niro as a comedic icon trying to reinvent himself after an incident including a nasty run-in with an audience member. In some ways you could say this is a spiritual successor to Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. The film is darkly hilarious, uncomfortably sharp and packs a punch with a stellar cast and memorable bits featuring Harvey Keitel and Danny Devito. Leslie Mann is our co-lead and she’s always fantastic in everything she does, elevating the material in every way she can. I really thought the chemistry between herself and De Niro was quite solid and the couple played well off each other.
One of the aspects I appreciated about The Comedian was how authentic they wanted the film to be, so they brought in a powerhouse comic like Jeffrey Ross (known for his Roasts on Comedy Central). You can hear the impact of that push to make the film grounded in reality, although I did feel a few jokes fell flat. But maybe that was part of the plan in some instances, to give this sense of discomfort. Not everygag is a home-run, but that’s how you make shit feel real. Hell – they shot some scenes in the Comedy Cellar, which fans of stand-up know is a “must”, but I appreciate them doing that. It wouldn’t be a genuine stand-up film without that tip of the hat to one of America’s most famous locations.
De Niro’s character is really trying to move past his sitcom notoriety, which we all know is nearly impossible when you catch fire early on. A signature catchphrase can become a ball and chain for comedic performers, and De Niro is sick of hearing the past constantly rear it’s ugly head as he tries to transform himself late in his storied career. Hell, Jimmie Walker even makes an appearance – that’s right – “Dy-no-mite!” Jimmie Walker. So there you go. It happens.
The cameos were a nice touch. I liked seeing Gilbert Gottfried, Billy Crystal, Hannibal Buress – but the core of The Comedian is in it’s authenticity which is also why the film may simmer rather than explode in some of it’s sequences. There’s a retirement center scene which might make or break the film for you. There’s also a ton of raunchy humour jampacked into this flick, which was nice at times, but a little played out too. I do think that De Niro’s attempts at insult comedy were well executed, because the great thing about insult comedy is that even if the joke isn’t that good (and many of them are sketchy here), the punchline will always draw a reaction – good or bad and in both results, the impact is felt.
Say what you will about this film, or De Niro’s late career attempts at comedy (Dirty Grandpa….), but The Comedian is an honest and genuine look into the world of performers trying to break free from their past (EDDIE’S HOME!). It’s not a subject most film fans can truly relate to or even sympathise with, but what we all enjoy are movies about redemption and at it’s core, that’s what The Comedian is about. The film is a slow burn, but if you’re a fan of stand-up comedy and you’re not afraid of being uncomfortable, then I suggest you give it a shot.