The world of comedy is an absolutely fascinating place to set a narrative. While it isn't necessarily a new idea to the silver screen, there are still a wide variety of ways that filmmakers can explore the mind of a comedian. However, most of these pictures generally end up getting confused regarding whether it wants to make us laugh or cry, which results in a movie that doesn't know what it wants to be. Director Taylor Hackford is working with a list of impressive talent in The Comedian, yet it still doesn't manage to find the balance between trying to make us laugh and genuinely connect to its characters.
Jackie (Robert De Niro) got his claim to fame by playing Eddie on an old television show. Years later, he has continued to pursue comedy as a stand-up insult comic, although most of his gigs want to hire Eddie, rather than Jackie. When he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), his growing affections begin to help encourage him to turn his life around.
Before the lights dimmed, director Taylor Hackford delivered a speech that mentioned the four men attached to the writing of this screenplay. The Comedian has been developed for many years, as this handful of writers worked on dramatic and comedic elements to deliver the best product possible. However, bringing this many minds into the same project could be to blame for the film's disjointed sense of tone. At times, the film wants to be a comedy special, and then it suddenly wants to be a drama. Unfortunately, we don't get enough substantial material from either side, which makes the film feel quite lacking. The funniest material comes from the various guest comedians that can be seen sprinkled throughout the running time, with some relatively solid acts. However, most of Jackie's gags rarely got even as much as a chuckle out of the majority of the crowd.
The world has been treated to some truly wonderful comedians over the years, and quite a few of them had great conflict in their lives. The Comedian seeks to add some drama, although all of it is external, and very little of it is worthwhile. There are a couple mentions of Jackie's past, although these scenes don't really lead anywhere. With no real obstacles to overcome, it's difficult to find this lead character to be interesting. He finds himself in some uncomfortable or unfavorable situations, but otherwise, things are going okay for Jackie. The third act finds the scene to connect the small hints of drama explored earlier to a present situation, although it results in a missed opportunity. This isn't a horrible script, but it most certainly needed a rewrite to generate some sort of internal conflict that makes the audience want to become emotionally invested in the lead.
While the guest comedians deliver some laughs in their small snippets, the third act relies on cheap ways to make us laugh and swoon over the central romance that can only be responded to with an eye-roll. Rather than crafting genuinely funny lines, we're expected to laugh at profanity that has no real joke behind it. Most of the time, these lines are being spoken by the elderly or young children, although most of it just isn't very funny. Meanwhile, we're exposed to the typical movie romance that doesn't actually make us care about how they end up. It all plays out in an obvious way that fails to enhance the narrative of either character. The Comedian feels passive at every step of the way. This makes for a film that would be a lightly entertaining weekend rental, but it certainly isn't worth going out of your way to see.
This project drew in quite a cast, although the material still doesn't allow them to display all that we know they're capable of. Robert De Niro handles the role of Jackie rather well, as his acting chops ultimately translated to being a convincing comedian. While the jokes don't always land, it's entertaining to watch De Niro do stand-up. Leslie Mann delivers one of the more dramatic roles of her career as Harmony. However, she still manages to deliver upon the charm that she brings to every project, making her a strong fit for the part. Supporting roles from Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone, and others are welcome additions, although the cameo appearances feel completely wasted.
Despite having wonderful talent attached to the project, The Comedian never quite manages to leave much of an impact. The jokes rarely land and the drama is almost nonexistent, as the lead character has no real internal conflict. Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann do what they can to bring out the best in this screenplay, although there really isn't much under the surface. The film relies too much on lazy attempts to get laughs and feelings of empathy from the audience. There are hints of a good narrative here, but they are never truly capitalized on. The Comedian has nothing real to say, and no amount of star power can change that. Rent it.
The Comedian will be playing at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi on November 11th and November 12th.