Tragedy is Funnier Then This… Our Review of ‘The Comedian’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 03, 2017
Tragedy is Funnier Then This… Our Review of ‘The Comedian’

Quite often in this job as a ‘paid’ film critic people will laugh at you because sometimes no matter how positive you are going in to a movie…you know damn well you should have seen the end result coming.  The Comedian actually warns us about ten minutes in when Robert De Niro’s down and out comic Jackie Burke runs into comic icon Brett Butler for an open mic night where they are both booked and she says “If I ever book a gig like this please shoot me” and Jackie says “Don’t worry, I’ll do us both with the same bullet”; this is the moment when I know I should have brought a gun with me to the press screening.  To put it simply, The Comedian is a languid, vapid, hateful piece of fuckery that someone actually called cinema, everyone involved in this movie for more than 30 seconds deserves the full Old Yeller treatment.  This was fucking hate filled shit, boiling down the art of comedy to a series of crude one liners and tasteless bits.

Our ‘hero’ Jackie (Robert De Niro) has seen better days and is looking for a fresh start.  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 (Danny DeVito) and his wife (Patti LuPone), Jackie is forced to serve out a sentence doing community service for accosting an audience member. While there, he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), the daughter of a sleazy Florida real estate mogul (Harvey Keitel), and the two find inspiration in one another, resulting in surprising consequences.

Overloaded with clichés, bad jokes and miserable characters, The Comedian is supposed to be an in the trenches look at the life of a stand-up comedian who is past their prime, the problem here is that in this movie every character is either nasty, pathetic, terribly underdeveloped or just downright forced.  A movie won’t work when you have a cavalcade of characters who for the most part just don’t give a fuck; it makes for a painful experience, beyond words (even though I will try).

The film suffers from tired direction by Taylor Hackford who really hasn’t done anything remotely interesting since 2004 and goes through the motions in such a hacky fashion that he truly feels asleep at the wheel on this one, more so then he has in the past decade.  There’s nothing here as the script from Art Linson, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman and comic Jeffrey Ross just has no space to work in.  It feels like Ross and acerbic styling’s were the inspiration for Jackie Burke and the tone of it all just takes the air out of the entire room, not leaving any emotional space for anything other than flat out exhaustion.

Hackford shows a genuine sense of malaise through it all, with characters that just don’t want to be there.  It’s never funny (shouldn’t a movie called The Comedian have at least a couple of moments that are funny?), always angry and comes across as phony to the Nth degree.  This may have had support from comics and advisors but it’s painfully obvious that none of them (at least those who were deeply involved) have ever had to tell a story with any kind of nuance or emotion because this affair had neither.

De Niro is just exhausting.  Sure he’s been funny in movies in the past, but funny in a role and being a stand-up comedian are to different things and this is where he loses us.  He just never turns it off, and granted it’s part of the character that he is playing, but without one shade of genuine emotion throughout he always just feels like an emotional guarded jackass…and that’s a hard protagonist to get behind.  Leslie Mann is uninspired and pretty one dimensional and felt much like someone going through community service (I just can’t fathom what law he broke) while Harvey Keitel is agressively trolling them the entire goddamn movie and his entire performance either feels like a hate filled dare or he’s just really angry when he’s on anything mind-altering.  Only Edie Falco and Danny DeVito manage to keep their heads up high as his long suffering agent and his brother respectively while the cameos from a myriad of other famous New York standups feel like they got conned into what was supposed be something fun, but reminded them that it wasn’t always fun at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I get what they were TRYING to do in The Comedian but fuck me; making us sit through this failed excuse for a film is the equivalent of a senior citizen trying to keep their driver’s license so they can continue to drive.  While I love and respect what my elders have done in the past, don’t ask or expect me to not put my foot down so they don’t drive the car into a crowded intersection because they couldn’t see what colour the light was.   No matter what anyone says, everyone fucking well knew better in this piece of shit.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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