×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Comedian’

Robert De Niro plays an aging stand-up comic looking for a big comeback.

With:
Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Harvey Keitel, Charles Grodin, Patti LuPone, Cloris Leachman, Veronica Ferres, Lois Smith, Billy Crystal, Jim Norton, Beth Malone.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1967614/

It’s not easy to grow old gracefully in the entertainment business, and the chance to both explore and poke fun at that uncomfortable truth may have been exactly what drew Robert De Niro to “The Comedian.” But despite the actor’s sincerest efforts in the role of a stand-up comic still trying to distance himself from the ’90s sitcom that made him famous, there’s a fundamental miscalculation to the casting that drags down an already lumpy shaggy-dog dramedy.

De Niro’s fans may be hoping for a spiritual successor to his classic Martin Scorsese dark comedy “The King of Comedy,” but “The Comedian” falls much closer to actor’s forgettable showbiz satire also penned by writer-producer Art Linson, “What Just Happened?” In fact, that’s a question viewers may ask themselves almost any time De Niro’s character, Jackie Berkowitz, grabs a mic.

There’s a strange disconnect between the scenes of Jackie awkwardly performing comedy routines, which play like De Niro gamely reading material on “Saturday Night Live,” and the more authentic moments of Jackie going about his life as a seventysomething man who still has a lot left to prove. Even though De Niro never quite sells the stand-up, the movie still may have worked if it surrounded him with characters worthy of the actors playing them.

In addition to Linson, the script is credited to Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, and Lewis Friedman — and while only Linson and Ross worked together, the quartet cobbled together a very loose narrative that kicks off with Jackie assaulting a heckler at a “TV Nostalgia Night” club gig. After a month in prison, Jackie is released to community service, and that’s where he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), a much younger free spirit who landed in hot water for assaulting an ex.

While they establish a father-daughter rapport, there’s also something creepily romantic to their relationship and the push-pull between the pair becomes the film’s emotional throughline. Other characters like Jackie’s put-upon brother (Danny DeVito), who runs a diner with his wife (Patti LuPone), Jackie’s far-too-tolerant manager (Edie Falco), and Harmony’s sleazy father (Harvey Keitel) pop in and out without ever gaining much definition.

There’s no question it’s a strong ensemble — Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, and Lois Smith only bolster that status despite characters that never quite go anywhere, and Billy Crystal has a modestly amusing cameo as himself — as actors are understandably drawn to the allure of working opposite De Niro. Hackford’s unfussy direction also puts the emphasis on performance, but “The Comedian” remains an acting vehicle in search of a driver.

Partly because De Niro’s delivery of the comic material never quite connects, it’s hard to discern if the audience is meant to root for Jackie’s comeback or view him as tragically misguided. Either way, Jackie keeps unintentionally getting attention through viral videos, and in the movie’s most bizarre sequence, he regales a retirement community with a scatalogical reworking of “Makin’ Whoopee” dubbed “Makin’ Poopy” that apparently draws millions of views in a remixed version on YouTube.

Several films, from “Punchline” to “Funny People” (which also featured Mann), have mined the lives of stand-up comedians for inherent pathos with more credibility and insight, while recent TV series including “Louie” and “BoJack Horseman” have created entire worlds for multi-layered characters struggling to stay relevant at their craft. Even with a bona fide icon at its center, “The Comedian” doesn’t dig deep enough to add anything substantial to the subgenre.

Film Review: 'The Comedian'

Reviewed at AFI Fest (Special Screenings), Nov. 11, 2016. Running time: 120 MIN.

Production: A Sony Pictures Classics release of a Cinelou presentation of a Cinelou Films, Linson Entertainment, Anvil Films production. Producers: Art Linson, John Linson, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon, Taylor Hackford. Executive producers: Scott Karol, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Iain Abrahams, Fredy Bush, Dennis Pelino, Mark Axelowitz, Lawrence Smith, Peter Sobiloff.

Crew: Director: Taylor Hackford. Screenwriters: Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman. Camera (color): Oliver Stapleton. Editor: Mark Warner.

With: Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Harvey Keitel, Charles Grodin, Patti LuPone, Cloris Leachman, Veronica Ferres, Lois Smith, Billy Crystal, Jim Norton, Beth Malone.

More Film

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners

    Berlin Film Festival 2019: Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' Wins Golden Bear

    Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms,” about a young Israeli man in Paris who has turned his back on his native country, won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale on Saturday. The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to François Ozon’s French drama “By the Grace of God,” a fact-based account of the Catholic Church [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content