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  • Writer's pictureRob Ervin

Rob Reviews "The Comedian"

Taylor Hackford is a guy that knows how to handle a film. Whether it was the critically acclaimed hits like “Against All Odds” and “White Nights” or award season darlings “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Ray,” he has been making movies as long as I have walked the earth. With his latest film “The Comedian,” Hackford takes on themes of aging and the entertainment industry, which is something that Hollywood tends to get a bit squirrely about.

Filmed in less than four weeks on a fairly small budget, it is the story of Jackie Burke (Robert DeNiro), who had a popular sitcom thirty years ago but at heart is a stand-up comedian who lives to work blue and shock his audience like a cross between Lenny Bruce and Don Rickles. The problem that he faces is the undefeated streak of Father Time himself as relevancy to his fan base is getting farther away to age itself as well as the struggle of the stand-up industry itself. It’s true that he is legendary (and infamous) amongst even his contemporary peers, but it takes an unfortunate moment at a comedy club that lands him in prison that puts him back in the spotlight. Along with his agent and daughter of his original agent, Miller (Edie Falco), they both try to find him success professionally while he deals with his personal issues like a brother that loves him (Danny DeVito), a sister-in-law who despises him (Patty LuPone), and a lady he meets during his community service whom he is drawn to (Leslie Mann).

You may be reading this synopsis and thinking to yourself, “This is one HECK of a cast!” The thing is, there is so much more here, like Cloris Leachman, Harvey Keitel, Charles Grodin, and a bevy of comics playing both themselves and alternate versions of themselves, including Nick Di Paolo, Hannibal Burress, Brett Butler, Jimmy Walker, Jim Norton, and others. Having been a student of stand-up comedy since I was about seven (defense mechanism… long story), this film was nothing short of a breath of fresh air in films of its ilk. I go back to films like “Punchline,” which was good for its time but even back then lacked a certain something to me. This film delivered on every level, showing a gritty reality that is reminiscent to “Louie”. Its no-nonsense, lack of punch-pulling style that Hackford tends to employ in his films works VERY well here, and the screenplay by veterans Art Linson, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman, and roast king Jeffrey Ross absolutely nails it. There is a wonderful heart at the center of all of the chaos in Burke’s life that propels the story from just another run-of-the-mill story of a comeback attempt and turns it into something that those of us that may have less years ahead of us than we have behind us can all identify with.

And do I even have to say anything about the greatness of DeNiro here? Jackie Burke could go down as a role that a new generation will go to as THEIR default for his career that I do with roles like Travis Bickle, Jake La Motta, and even his turn as Al Capone. For fans that have worried about the perceived rut he has been in over the last few years, DON’T let that keep you from “The Comedian”. It is almost sad to me that this film is getting released as early in the year as it is because it could go down as one of 2017’s most underrated releases with performances that could be some of the best of the year.

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