There's no doubt that a lot of the jokes in this film don't stick, but Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann make it worthwhile
Robert De Niro hasn’t had the most illustrious career as of late, while movies like “The Intern” and “Joy” provide for sweet distractions, there have been a bit too many films like “Heist” and “Dirty Grandpa” to ignore. While still a sought after actor, De Niro has turned to paycheck pieces to get much of the work done, which in the case of “Dirty Grandpa,” might be a career killer. A movie like “The Comedian” feels like a strange mix of both his legacy work and a paycheck piece in one. Of course, De Niro is no stranger to playing a stand-up comedian like his famous turn in “The King of Comedy,” but the tone set forth in its trailer gave off both a sickly sweet vibe like “The Intern” and the offensively unlikable feel that “Dirty Grandpa” tried so hard to shove down our throats. Still, despite being burned by star power in the past, it’s easy to doubt “The Comedian,” but it’s impossible to ignore it with this line up.
Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is an aging insult comic known for his work on an ’80s sitcom “Eddie’s Home.” Jackie has grown tired of having to pull the same jokes from the television show all the time, but finds himself strapped for cash when performing the material he wants to perform. After being vehemently heckled by a prankster on stage, Jackie hits the man (to which I think he deserved) and is sentenced to 30 days in prison with 100 hours of community service. At community service, he meets a down-on-her-luck woman (Leslie Mann) who warms up to him. Through adventures with dysfunctional families and business events, they begin to see that their lives aren’t so different after all.
“The Comedian” is a film that works best when it’s not trying to be funny, which becomes the film’s biggest downfall. Jackie himself is an incredibly abrasive character who is very tough to warm up to at first. His jokes are often one tick over the edge of tasteful and often times puts people off. The biggest issue with this is that the film attempts to paint the uncomfortable audiences as the bad guys, when in reality, much of Jackie’s jokes just don’t land. Ironically, this is a film that works much better when things get a bit more serious. Luckily, these scenes actually end up paving a way for a fairly satisfying retribution of character for Jackie, something you don’t often get with characters such as him.
This misalignment in comedic timing is the worst thing about “The Comedian,” because beyond that, this is a pretty solid film. While tough to approach, De Niro seems to be giving his all as Jackie, and it does turn into a heartfelt performance near the end of the film. De Niro does really great work in being that guy that takes it too far and goes there, as he just seems to have that air of ballsiness about him that makes this role perfect for him. Mann, however, steals the show in this film as his community service buddy, Harmony. Mann is best known for her supporting roles in male-driven comedies, and the few times she has taken the reins of a film, they typically fizzle out. Here, we get to see Mann play someone much more than just a high-pitched punchline. Harmony is a likable, broken, magnetic person who seems to be everything that Jackie should be as a comedian and a person. This is a sweet and surprisingly deep performance from Mann that I didn’t expect, but gladly welcome.
It’s been some time since director Taylor Hackford has had a large credit to his name. His last film, 2013’s Jason Statham-Jennifer Lopez thriller, “Parker,” premiered to poor reviews and box office performance. This has led journalists to speculate whether Hackford will ever make a film as well-received and successful as his 2004 biopic, “Ray,” again. While “The Comedian” is far from the success that “Ray” is, I think Hackford might finally be getting back into the rhythm of things. This is a film that utilizes many different things in tandem with each other very well without becoming overly saturated and convoluted, which many directors would’ve let happen with this many characters in a film.
That being said, kissing two hours in length, “The Comedian” could’ve done with a few cuts to get it down to about 15 minutes shorter to what it is now. The film doesn’t drag like many other films of its kind does, it just tends to meander on things that don’t end up being important in the end, which almost feels like a false plot marker in a sense.
“The Comedian” is a film that surprised me; it didn’t blow me away in any regards, or even ruffle my hair, but it surprised me. While the protagonist is borderline repulsive at first, the film gives way for a sickly sweet retribution for the character, which De Niro does admirable work with. Meanwhile, Mann gives the best performance of her career in something that will likely not be remembered when discussing her career, rather to focus on smaller parts in bigger, less giving movies. While “The Comedian” doesn’t offer much in the way of true laughs, this is a film that works much better in its more serious, quieter moments, even if I still feel jipped on a laugh.
Directed by: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Veronica Ferres, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, Patti LuPone, and Harvey Keitel.
Runtime: 119 minutes
Rating: R for crude sexual references and language throughout.
Now playing at select Charlotte-area theaters.
A Sony Pictures Classics release, Cinelou Films presents, a Cinelou Films, Linson Entertainment and Anvil Films production, in association with The Fyzz Facility and Mad Riot Entertainment, a Taylor Hackford film, “The Comedian”