R-rated comedies are never for the faint of heart --- the material is always laced with profanities that would shock most drunken sailors. "The Comedian" is no different, and it even manages to surpass a few recent comedic offerings in the "ick" factor. But, despite that, "The Comedian" is definitely, supremely funny!
Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is an aging stand-up comedian trying desperately to shake his 20-year-old TV image from his successful sitcom "Eddie's Home". Unfortunately for Jackie, he played a loveable blue-collar shlub who had a well-known way of addressing his TV wife, Arlene. Everywhere Jackie goes --- or tries to perform --- people still insist that he do his signature line, "Ar-leeeeeeeen!", which infuriates him.
On a rainy Friday night at a Long Island comedy club owned by his old buddy Jimmie Walker ("Good Times"), accompanied by his beleaguered yet steadfast manager, Miller (Edie Falco), Jackie is all set to do his routine to a half-empty room. When an unruly, obnoxious heckler (Happy Anderson) and his wife continually interrupt Jackie --- and he realizes they are filming him for their own web series --- he flies off the stage and lets the heckler have it.
Sentenced to 30 days in prison for not apologizing, Jackie must execute community service at a local soup kitchen where he meets Harmony Schiltz (Leslie Mann), who is also serving out her assault conviction at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in lower Manhattan. The two become friends, trading off familial duties --- Harmony accompanies Jackie to his niece, Brittany's (Lucy DeVito) wedding and he appears at dinner for her father, Mac's (Harvey Keitel) birthday, as his gift --- apparently Mac, too, was a big fan of Eddie's.
"The Comedian" is a terrific vehicle for De Niro. He's annoying, sympathetic, caustic, poignant and downright hilarious, as all moviegoers know De Niro can act. He's especially endearing in his relationship with Mann on screen. His "uncle" speech at Brittany's wedding --- as parents Jimmy (Danny DeVito) and Flo (Patti Lupone) watch and listen in horror --- is totally irreverent, and, ultimately slide-splitting.
Mann is off-the-charts, crazy good. It is seriously her best role --- ever! To top off the already outrageous wedding scene, Harmony's screaming match with Flo, as she and Jackie are leaving, is hysterical. Some audience members may be offended by all of this raucous behavior, but I found it to be uproariously amusing.
The entire cast of "The Comedian", which lists 16 actual comedians, such as Walker, Richard Belzer, Brett Butler and Gilbert Gottfried, is outstanding. Billy Crystal has a plum cameo that is LOL, but Cloris Leachman almost steals the film.
She stars as May O'Connor, the 95-year-old American icon comedienne who is being roasted on TV by the Friars Club. Miller gets Jackie a spot on the dais, and he is "killing" it with his ode to May --- and May is loving it. Leachman's reactions to Jackie's raunchy material are priceless, and reminds us how much we miss seeing this wonderful actress more often.
As I stated in the beginning of this review, R-rated comedies are certainly not appropriate for everyone. But if you can handle some of the questionable material in "The Comedian", like the "Poopie" song Jackie performs at a nursing home --- which I loathed --- then the rest of the movie will keep you hilariously entertained.
Opinion: See It Now!
In order to perfect his performance as a stand-up comic, Robert De Niro observed many, many stand-up routines, and the end result in his new film, "The Comedian", proves it was well worth the effort. It's De Niro's best comic effort since "Meet The Parents" (2000). He is aided and abetted by a variety of comedians who are shown with snippets of their on-stage acts at Greenwich Village's Comedy Cellar, which director Taylor Hackford calls the best comedy club in the country. And we are treated to cameos from veteran quipsters like Billy Crystal, Jimmie Walker and Brett Butler.
The running gag in the film is that Jackie Burke (De Niro) can't shake his sitcom persona of Eddie, a beloved character of whom his fans can't get enough. Everywhere he goes --- on stage, at an assisted living facility, even when he first meets Mac (Harvey Keitel), the wealthy father of Jackie's new friend, Harmony (Leslie Mann) --- Eddie is besieged to do his trademark routine from the TV show. But he generally refuses.
What he doesn't refuse to do, however, is grab a microphone and ad lib his way through a variety of jokes, some of which are mean-spirited and replete with bathroom humor. Aside from some of the raunchy stuff, though, "The Comedian" is a very funny movie, full of laugh-out-loud moments. When Jackie is heckled by one guy (Happy Anderson) in a club, while his wife films their contentious back-and-forth, Jackie tries to assuage the situation by offering to buy the man a drink, and "a bag of oats for his wife". Things get ugly at this point, but with hilarious results.
A team of writers keeps the jokes flowing, whether the characters are on stage or off. Some of the script is head-scratching material, as when Jackie auditions to host a reality show where a man in a swimsuit is covered with live crawfish in order to win some fabulous prizes. While his wife and two small children watch, the man is bitten and bloodied, yet with mere seconds to go, he cries "uncle", the concept of the show.
I have usually found Mann irritating in just about any role she's done, but here she is pure delight, and I loved her flirtatious relationship with Jackie, credible despite their obvious age difference. Actually, Jackie does most of the flirting while Harmony plays hard-to-get. Danny DeVito plays Jackie's brother, Jimmy, and Patti Lupone is his wife, Flo. She detests Jackie and cringes --- rightfully so --- when he gets ready to speak at their daughter Brittany's (Lucy DeVito, Danny's real-life daughter) Jewish gay wedding.
90-year-old Cloris Leachman plays May O'Connor, a veteran entertainer who gets roasted, starting with the emcee, D'Angelo (Charles Grodin). He and Jackie have a longstanding feud which is never explained, while Gilbert Gottfried is shown as one of the roasters, but never speaks a word in the film.
Last but not least, Jackie's agent, Miller (Edie Falco), has her hands full trying to resurrect his diminishing career while keeping him in line. Falco is perfectly cast as the deadpan, straight-laced voice of reason.
"The Comedian" is heartily entertaining. Some of the funniest bits are the shots of the actors reacting to Jackie's unconventional repartee. Director Hackford ("An Officer and a Gentleman", "Ray") has managed to pull off the most difficult challenge in filmdom, to make a good comedy. It helps to have a talent as large as Robert De Niro as the driving force.
Opinion: See It Now!