Tuesday, January 31, 2017

DeNiro and a fine ensemble cast bring Taylor Hackford's THE COMEDIAN to crackling life

Liveliness is what most distinguishes THE COMEDIAN, the new film directed by Taylor Hackford and co-written by a quartet of scribes. There is hardly a moment here that does not absolutely crackle with life, and because that life is lived via a bunch of first-rate actors, the movie tumbles along like a boulder careening downhill. Mr. Hackford (pictured below) has done a commendable job of helming his film -- keeping the pace fast and frisky, while allowing the occasional tender moment to shine as brightly as it needs.

The Comedian is also notable for giving Robert De Niro (below and further below) his best role in a long while, one that he fills with the kind of charisma we haven't seen this actor display for some time. (He was good in The Intern, but here is a role that requires, and is given, the turkey, as well as all the trimmings.) The story concerns an over-the-hill comedian named Jackie who once had a hit TV series, which appears to be what his fans remember best and only want more of. The movie opens with his appearance at an out-of-the-way comedy club, during which one insulting and rowdy-for-a-reason audience member brings out such ire in Jackie that our hero is given a short prison sentence for his time and trouble.

One of the movie's great strengths is how it is able -- via script, direction and actors -- to allow us to see both sides of just about everyone's story so that we can understand the viewpoint of each, while also understanding and accepting the other side of the situation. And because the film is practically non-stop confrontation, one person against another, this ability to understand both sides makes the movie much more believable, more human and humane, than the usual situation comedy.

The supporting ensemble includes a bevy of top-notchers, starting with Leslie Mann (above, right), who proves utterly charming, sad and angry as the unexpected recipient of Jackie's attraction. Harvey Keitel (below, left) plays her wealthy and controlling father with an unusually potent mixture of contempt and affection.

Danny DeVito (below, right) and Patti LuPone (left) essay the roles of Jackie's brother and sister-in-law, and both are as on-the-mark as you'd expect, with DeVito an exquisite combo of love and disappointment. while LuPone takes constantly simmering rage to new and hilarious heights.

Being all about comedians (particularly those of the "insult" variety) and the art of performing, the movie is chock-a-block with notable faces (yes, that's Billy Crystal, below, right) who pop up throughout -- usually accompanied by a nasty/funny volley of insults.

Perhaps the movie's signature scene is devoted to a Friar's Club roast of an aging comedy queen, played by Cloris Leachman (below), the result of which is jaw-droppingly dark and hilarious. We also get a fine and funny scene of performing in a Florida home for the aged, which struck us new-to-Florida aged residents as absolutely on the money. (The scene includes a very nice rendition of the Sondheim standard Being Alive, used of course for rather ironic effect.)

TrustMovies makes no claim of greatness for The Comedian. It's a thoroughly independent/mainstream endeavor. But as such, it is surprisingly adept, sharp, funny -- and, ah, those terrific performances! (That's Edie Falco, below, playing Jackie's put-upon but quite helpful, longtime agent.)

The movie -- from Sony Pictures Classics and running a surprisingly swift two hours -- opens just about everywhere this Friday, February 3, and should prove, once word-of-mouth sets in, something of a box-office bonanza for its distributor. To find the theaters nearest you, click here -- and then click on GET TICKETS.

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