The Comedian. A Review
Robert DeNiro spent the first half of his career building himself up as one of the greatest actors of all time with a combination of great roles and memorable performances. DeNiro has now spent the latter half of his career apparently attempting to ruin any good will he had earned and in the process has become almost a caricature of his former self. The name DeNiro once meant a quality movie and probably a great performance, but in recent years he has struggled to find roles that he can properly attack and own. The Comedian is a good role for the aging movie star but unfortunately the rest of the movie does not live up to its lead actor but maybe this is what DeNiro has earned from his work over the last few years.
The Comedian tells the story of a stand up comedian Jackie Burke, who is trying to separate himself from his former glory as a popular network television dad. His shows are filled with people who want to see sets revolving around of their beloved "Eddie" even resorting to chanting the TV dads name rather than Jackie's. This could be the center for the plot of this movie but it seems to fall to the background more often rather than not. There really are no stakes in the plot, every time a potential driving force for the movie to hold onto is raised, it seems to be forgotten by the next scene. There are ways to make an entertaining film that does not necessarily have the weight of the world on its shoulders, and The Comedian decides to ignore them. While the plot is forgettable the one redeeming part of The Comedian is the actual comedy. Writing comedy is incredibly hard and writing stand up routines is even harder. Jeff Ross, legendary roast comic gets a writing credit here and it is clear to see where his talents were used. Most of the stand up routines in the movie are incredibly funny, not just by the main character but by the solid group of real life comedians playing versions of themselves. When making a movie about stand up comedy it is obviously important to get the comedy right, so at least they did that.
The Comedian actually marks the second time DeNiro has played a stand up in a movie. The King of Comedy directed by the legendary Marty Scorsese is the great forgotten collaboration between the two legends and if you have not seen it I highly recommend it. DeNiro has a been a character actor all his career, so it should not be surprising that he falls into this role well. That being said DeNiro brings a ton of baggage in the way of his movie star status to this role and while he is not playing out of character, he is impressive in his performance.. He owns this role and makes it unique from most of his previous roles. While watching I was not thinking about watching a Robert DeNiro movie, I was watching a Jackie Burke movie. Edie Falco plays his manager and while a more minor role than I would have liked, she like DeNiro fits this role like a glove. Danny Divito, Harvey Keitel and Leslie Mann fill out the rest of the main cast and unfortunately with the exception of Mann, rarely show up in the movie.
Taylor Hackford is going to have to take the majority of the blame here as The Comedian struggles it's way through its hour and 56 minute run time. There are scenes that are completely unessential to the plot and for the life of me I can't understand why they are in the movie other than for character masturbation.. There is a half baked plot point where Jackie Burke starts to become a viral sensation, and while the cliche of "old crazy guy blowing up on YouTube" is almost as old as YouTube itself, there were opportunities to use that to add some depth to this movie. Either their take on social media was an unfunny attempt at a joke or lazy film making, and honestly both are a perfect description of this movie.
At its most basic the comedian gets it right. Robert DeNiro plays an insult comic who is preparing for how he is going to attack the last third of his life. Jeff Ross writes the stand up for DeNiro's character and the stand up comedy world is is present and pretty well represented. It's the bigger things that count and a plot that goes nowhere, a run time that feels about 40 minutes too long and Leslie Mann being the love interest just beat down the good things about this movie. DeNiro has been a part of some pretty terrible movies over the last few years and while this one is not his fault, he should maybe think a little more about how he picks his next few roles or we may love one of the greatest actors of all time to obscurity.