Comedians may be the most powerful and simultaneously likable people in contemporary show business, which is why a film offering a behind-the-scenes look at the world of stand-up comedy sounds fascinating on paper. In all honesty, however, there is nothing about any branch or style and aspect of the history of American stand-up comedy that has not been told in the numerous podcasts and late-night talk shows that are readily available on the contemporary multi-medial landscape. Which is why, in truth, the initial premise of The Comedian, about a seasoned stand-up comic struggling to reinvent his persona and escape the clutches of a character he used to play on television, actually has little to offer.
Even less promising is the fact that director Taylor Hackford’s film dares to be a romantic comedy. A romantic comedy about a comedian…has that ever worked in cinema? Well, if it hasn’t The Comedian surely is not the film to change the trend.
Besides the flatness and superficiality of the script, which is far more concerned with listing a bunch of rom-com clichés rather than actually look at the world of stand-up comedy and show business in depth, the worst thing about the film comes from the casting of De Niro. First of all, the part would have been perfect for an actually seasoned comedian who could have brought something to the table. The list is endless, from Andrew Dice Clay to Louis C.K. Secondly, despite the fact that De Niro has been trying to convince the world that he is funny for the better part of the last thirty years, he is not. (In fact, the reason why Scorsese’s The King of Comedy works so well is that it is impossible to imagine De Niro/Rupert Pupkin as a funny man.) To have him deliver entire stand-up monologues is downright irresponsible.
And yet, the casting of De Niro is still the most interesting aspect of The Comedian, perhaps the only thing that is truly worth talking about. Well, except for an A-class jazz score composed by trumpeter Terence Howard. As the films of Woody Allen and Bob Fosse’s Lenny have taught us, jazz and comedy can be a match made in heaven. Too bad that there is not comedy to speak of in The Comedian…so you might as well simply buy the original soundtrack album instead. – ★
THE COMEDIAN || 2016, USA || Romantic Comedy || Directed by – Taylor Hackford / Produced by – Art Linson, John Linson, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon, Taylor Hackford / Written by – Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman / Music by – Terence Blanchard / Cinematography – Oliver Stapleton / Edited by – Mark Warner / Starring – Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Veronica Ferres, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, Patti LuPone, Harvey Keitel / Running time: 119 minutes.
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