The Comedian (Taylor Hackford, 2016): USA

Reviewed by Katrina Storton. Viewed at AFI Film Festival 2016.

The Comedian (2016) has been a special passion project for Robert De Niro for many years in the making. Its plot circles around the life of Jackie Burke, a once successful television comedian who is now a struggling stand-up comedian.

Jackie Burke was the star of a sitcom called “Eddie’s Home” and since the show’s cancelation Jackie has had issues getting back into the comedy world as his style of insult comedy doesn’t fly easily with today’s younger crowd. It also doesn’t help that most audience still see him as his sitcom character Eddie. Jackie’s kid brother (Danny DeVito) and sister-in-law (Patti LuPone) are his main support until he takes an unusual gig out of desperation that ends up in him being arrested. A video of the gig hits the web and goes viral causing Jackie to be placed back into the spotlight. All is looking up until Jackie meets Harmony, a girl that changes his sour and hateful look at the world.

The Comedian received a lot of mix opinions after its world premiere at the 2016 AFI Film Festival. Many enjoyed the plot but felt it was predictable and the execution was poor. The jokes were extremely insulting, sexual and out of line but they fit. Those who criticized the comedy of the films appeared to not put into consideration that the film was in New York, with New Yorker comedians. The profanity and style of stand up perfectly fits the setting. It flawlessly fit into the grit, the cold, the dark and the unforgiving nature of New York. A great contrast The Comedian gives is when Jackie is in Florida performing an impromptu stand up performance. The jokes are lighter and the profanity is very low. The dark comedy isn’t appropriate for a bright beachy Florida setting and the director and screen writer understood that.

Another topic of interest was the editing of the film which was very abrupt, inconsistent, and unconventional. While it was somewhat confusing at times, the editing actually matched the musical score of the film. The original, pure, uncontrolled style of jazz that originated from the streets of New York was the music of choice for The Comedian. It made its presence as a diegetic and a non-diegetic element in the film with the editing style complementing its inconsistent rhythms.

The Comedian isn’t a Hollywood style film, it has a very independent feel to it. The mixed reviews on the film also stem from people’s opinions of Robert De Niro as he’s been under a lot of political fire lately. Overall though, the film is well made, filled with an all-star cast (Robert De Niro, Patti LuPone, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Cloris Leachman, Billy Crystal, Edie Falco and more) and has an enjoyable plot. The jokes are funny and it is suggested you don’t take them too seriously or else you’ll have a bad time. Take the film for what it is, understand it is De Niro’s passion project, something he personally wanted to make. While critics will be critics and judging a film is natural, this is a project, something De Niro cared about and you can tell when you watch it.

The Comedian comes out in theatres January 13th, 2017.

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