Wednesday 13 March 2019

Movie Review: The Comedian (2016)

A romantic comedy and drama, The Comedian is frequently foul mouthed but rarely funny or romantic.

In New York City, Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is an aging and caustic stand-up comic, well past his prime and best known for starring in the sitcom Eddie's Home from 30 years ago. His agent Miller (Edie Falco) struggles to find him work, and things get much worse when he assaults a heckler at a nostalgia night performance and is sentenced to 30 days in jail and 100 hours of community service. Upon his release Jackie is forced to borrow money from his brother Jimmy (Danny DeVito), whose wife Flo (Patti LuPone) cannot stand Jackie.

While fulfilling his community service hours Jackie meets Harmony Schiltz (Leslie Mann), who is also serving a community sentence for assaulting her cheating husband. They start a tentative friendship, she accompanies him to his niece's wedding, and he meets her overbearing father Mac (Harvey Keitel). But Harmony relocates to Florida, and Jackie is invited by his longtime rival Dick D'Angelo (Charles Grodin) to perform at an appreciation event for comedy legend May Conner (Cloris Leachman), where further surprises await.

At a running time of two hours, The Comedian is a solid 30 minutes too long. And most of these minutes are consumed by Jackie unspooling stand-up routines, most of them impromptu, but all of them exceptionally vulgar. Jackie is a deserved has-been, and his brand of humour is to insult as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Instead of making the point once and moving on, director Taylor Hackford repeatedly surrenders the microphone to De Niro as Jackie, and he proceeds to hurl an endless stream of bathroom and body function "jokes", consigning the film to the same gutter as the lead character.

Elsewhere four different script writers could not conjure up much of a story. This is bland older-man-meets-younger-woman-and-quickly-loses-her territory. The presence of stalwarts from the 1970s and 1980s in almost every role threatens to rescue patches of the film, but the combined talent of Harvey Keitel, Cloris Leachman, Danny DeVito and Charles Grodin is ultimately insufficient and they too run aground on the rocks of the mostly witless material.

Given the film's bloated length, it's remarkable how little is revealed about Jackie and Harmony, other than they are both short-tempered refugees from broken relationships and enjoy a full-throated screaming match. Perhaps they deserve each other, but these two abrasive characters cannot sustain much of a movie.

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