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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Grodin’
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For many film fans the chance to see Robert De Niro reteamed with “Taxi Driver” co-star Harvey Keitel or his “Midnight Run” buddy Charles Grodin would be irresistible. The kind of magic created in those pair ups is the stuff of legend. “The Comedian,” a new film directed by Taylor Hackford, mixes and matches De Niro with his former co-stars but fails to recapture old glories.
De Niro is Jackie Burke, a comedian whose stand up career is in a downward spiral. Once a beloved sitcom star, the dirty-mouthed comic earns bad press when he punches a heckler at a TV Nostalgia Night gig and gets thrown in jail. After serving thirty days he’s sentenced to community service, working at a homeless shelter. There he meets the unpredictable Harmony (Leslie Mann), daughter of a mob boss (Keitel) doing time there for punching her ex-husband. They hit it off, spending time together as Jackie tries to rebuild his career. When he’s not insulting folks at comedy clubs he’s borrowing money from his brother (Danny DeVito) and making his manager’s (Edie Falco) life difficult.
“The Comedian” promises much. Keitel, Grodin, Mann and Falco are a dream team and De Niro’s turn in “The King of Comedy” suggests he might do something interesting with the Jackie character. Unfortunately “The Comedian” has more in common with “Dirty Grandpa” than “The King of Comedy.” Any movie that features a take off on “Makin’ Whoopee” retitled “Makin’ Poopy” isn’t aiming that high.
De Niro never convinces as a stand up comic. Jackie may be desperate to kick-start his career but apparently he’s not desperate enough to come up with material that might actually make someone laugh. Part of it is De Niro’s cue card delivery, part is the generally disagreeable nature of the character. Jackie humour comes from anger but instead of channelling that rage into an interesting storyline, he simply punches a heckler or unleashes invective on those around him. In short, he’s an a-hole, an a-hole who is in virtually every frame of the film.
“The Comedian” promises much but doesn’t deliver and in comedy delivery is everything.
The opening moments of “The Humbling” are a fever dream, an anxiety-ridden nightmare. As stage superstar Simon Axler (Al Pacino) prepares to perform “As You Like It” his mind wanders, and soon we see him locked out of the theatre, refused reentry by a series of ushers and stagehands.
In reality he’s safe in the womb of his dressing room, but unease and insecurity wins out and he imagines the worst; an actor barred from the theatre.
It’s a glimpse into the mind of a lion in winter, an actor whose abilities are diminished. His crisis crescendos when he tries to commit suicide on stage after fumbling lines in front of a sold out house.
“You get all the awards, the accolades, the special treatment and what do you do? You end up throwing yourself off the stage, trying to pull some Hemingwayesque suicide.”
His flip into the orchestra pit lands him in rehab where he befriends Sybil (Nina Arianda), a troubled woman who thinks Simon, because of some of the roles he played on film, might be the right man to kill her husband. Later, at home, things get even stranger when he begins an affair with his goddaughter Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), a free spirited lesbian who has had a crush on Simon since she was a little girl.
His emotional recuperation is complicated by Sybil’s unexpected visits, Simon’s bad back and a quickly depleting bank account.
“Why don’t you get me a deal writing my memoirs?” he asks his agent (Charles Grodin). “Isn’t that what washed up actors do?”
Instead he gets another shot at the stage, a Broadway adaptation of “King Lear.”
What is never completely clear is how much of the story is a dream, the product of Simon’s mind playing tricks on him, and how much is real. It’s a provocative setup for the story, a sex farce about a older man and much younger woman, fuelled by the insecurities of a man falling apart professionally and personally, but it doesn’t always work.
Pacino goes all in as Axler. He’s both majestically Shakespearean and pathetically pathological but the movie’s uneven rhythms don’t do him any favors. He’s in almost every scene, but director Barry Levinson (working from a novel by Phillip Roth, adapted by Buck Henry) can’t make up its mind whether he is making a comedy, a psychological drama, romance or portrait of a crumbling man, and Pacino feels cut adrift from scene to scene.
It’s an entertaining performance in a diverting movie but as a statement on aging or insecurity or the folly of infatuation, it never sheds much light on what King Lear called, “this great stage of fools.”