Magazine article Screen International

'The Comedian': AFI Fest Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Comedian': AFI Fest Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Taylor Hackford. US. 2016. 120mins

Robert De Niro gives one of his warmest performances in recent years in The Comedian, a mighty likeable but ultimately flimsy comedy-drama about an ageing stand-up who gives love another try. Much like its Oscar-winning star, the film coasts along on charm and audience goodwill, although a little more edge might have helped.

Still, a sparkling ensemble highlighted by an absolutely lovely Leslie Mann somewhat mitigates a storyline that offers very little insight into the cutthroat world of professional comedians. Premiering at AFI Fest, this Sony Classics release will have a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in December before re-opening in January. But awards seem unlikely for this undemanding bauble, although its crowd-pleasing tone will certainly lure older viewers, as will a supporting cast that includes Danny DeVito, Edie Falco and Harvey Keitel.

De Niro plays Jackie, a once-popular comic who enjoyed superstardom as the lead of a dopey family sitcom called Eddie's Home. But now, he's stuck doing stand-up in dreary dives where his dwindling fan base just wants him to spout catchphrases from his old show. After a violent confrontation with one fan requires him to do community service, he meets Harmony (Mann), who's also doing community service for an assault charge. An attraction begins to grow between them, although they're both old enough to have had their heart broken many times.

Directed by Taylor Hackford (Ray), The Comedian will undoubtedly bring to mind another drama in which De Niro played a comic, the dark Martin Scorsese satire The King Of Comedy. But where Rupert Pupkin was a dangerous sociopath who was also massively untalented, Jackie is a legendary shock comic who is frustrated that his greatest fame came from a milquetoast sitcom.

One of The Comedian's bigger liabilities is that the film-makers believe Jackie is still a sharp stand-up, an assumption his lame material does not support. De Niro displays total confidence delivering one-liners about masturbation, marriage and incontinence, but the actor simply doesn't convince as a seasoned comic. The fact that De Niro is surrounded by actual comics doesn't help matters, but his laidback sullenness bears little resemblance to the neuroses and quicksilver wit displayed by most comedians. …

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