Bobby. The Comedian?
What happened? Do you need money? Is it money? Why’d you have to drag your friends Danny and Harvey into this? Come on, we believed in you a long long [long] time ago, but come on.
I’m not sure what any of the actors were thinking when they signed up for this movie. I want to give it the benefit of the doubt and say it was like communism—fantastic on paper and a crapshoot in execution. But alas, there’s nothing saving this seriously depressing film from its false namesake—and the actors it took down with it.
Robert DeNiro stars as Jackie in The Comedian, a film directed by Taylor Hackford (The Devil’s Advocate) and written by Jeffrey Ross, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman, and Art Linson, based on Linson’s idea. Maybe it should have been just that—an idea?
Also in the film are Danny DeVito as Jackie’s brother, Leslie Mann as Jackie’s love interest Harmony, Edie Falco as Jackie’s manager Miller, and Harvey Keitel as Harmony’s father Mac. Now this isn’t to knock the idea or the wonderful array of guest stars down—a film about a comedian is novel and rather hard to implement. I’m sure this was the thinking behind the guest appearances of comedy greats like Cloris Leachman, Billy Crystal, Gilbert Gottfried, Hannibal Buress, and plenty more. But the film just fell, well, to expectations: it’s too difficult to accomplish.
The problem here lies between the cliché characters falling prey to stereotypes far too quickly—keeping them all far too static—and the use of comedy as a character in itself, trying to be the one dynamic plot movement. Well, neither worked.
I wouldn’t doubt this is exactly how the film was pitched: “Jackie is an old dirty-talking has-been comedian who feeds on people’s insecurities. Harmony is a stereotypical over-emotional woman yearning to console her father issues by starting a relationship with Jackie. Mac is a stereotypical rich Jew who moved to Miami from New York to start a retirement home where he uses his supposed ties to the mob to get his daughter out of community service.”
And like that, an hour and a half of this two-hour film is all summed up. The entire characterization irks the audience the entirety of the film. Not only are we constantly aware of the fact that this is a supposed love story in the making, there are so many scenes that make the audience uncomfortable—and let’s hope that wasn’t what the writers were hoping for. Awkward pauses, ill-timed beats, even choreography and of course cinematography—everything just went wrong. This is truly a film you should check out if you want to learn how not to make a film, but instead of watching The Room, you want to see it with what you thought were great actors at their career worst.
I’m questioning Mark Warner’s editing on the film. Warner, who previously edited The Devil’s Advocate, Driving Miss Daisy and Rocky III, may have seen his best years in the ‘80s, and at this, should seriously consider retiring. Let’s break it down to simple belabored English: if you want to learn how to make a travel agency video, this is the movie for you. Nowhere else will you ever get beautiful scenic views of water with side-swipe transitions that provide no more information than if you Google translated a mistyped word. Side-swipe transitions! What on earth are we coming to where you have such an amazing cast and the best visuals onscreen are those I see on my screen saver.
That’s not even the worst part. Everything is overly explained and the audience is constantly looking at their watches five minutes into the movie. It’s poor writing, and let this be a lesson to screenwriters everywhere: the audience is smart. We don’t need everything explained and handed to us. Every scene was a lead into the next one; there was no need for those side-swipe visuals of Florida because guess what, we figured out Jackie was going to Florida an hour before when he mentioned Florida, not the five preceding scenes when he talked about—guess what?—Florida!
Here’s what kills me. This movie had so many opportunities. It had an amazing main cast, but it had an even larger amount of guest stars to play around with. Besides the usual suspects, others included Patty LuPone, Charles Grodin, Brett Butler, Jimmie Walker, Jim Norton, John Lutz, and Nick Di Paolo. It was as if Jeff Ross had a comedian wet dream and the best he could come up with is have Jackie talking while having bits of other comedians interspaced between scenes (again—editing). With a cast of characters so prominent in the comedy world, why pay them their fees only to use them for three seconds tops, or not even hear them at all?
And again with the opportunities. The film starts with Jackie going to jail for physically attacking a heckler. How do the filmmakers decide to portray his 30-day sentence? Cut from his trial in court to him in an orange jumper walking down a hall of cells. Then side-swipe (what a surprise!) to him exiting from the prison gates, cut to the next scene where Jackie tell his brother he was just in jail for 30 days.
Now I already said it was a missed opportunity, but there are plenty of harsher words to be said. If you wanted to make a comedy about a comedian, how about showing him in jail? Going to jail was the macguffin, it’s how the whole plot moves along. And even as banal as it might seem, at least give us a few jail scenes. Give us something. Don’t just transition to 30 days later—sans the “30 Days Later” placard one usually expects—and set the low expectations for the next two hours.
Don’t waste your money on the film. Don’t wait for it to come out on Demand. Don’t channel surf and catch the middle of it. Even if you’re on Netflix next year and you have the choice of this and Battlefield Earth, choose the latter, or better yet, watch some relaxing 1990s travel ads to get a feel of just what a third of this film is about. As for the unused talent and sloppy writing—well what else can we expect when you try to make an art like comedy into a setting and a character at once?
Watch The Comedian trailer below– if you really are that bored.
The film is now playing.