Monday, February 27, 2017

Dark comedy: Ferne Pearlstein's documentary THE LAST LAUGH examines the limits of joking

What are the boundaries of "good taste" when it comes to making jokes? Are there any subjects absolutely "off limits"? What about he Holocaust? Or AIDS? Maybe child molestation? Death? Disease? 9/11? Religion? And, of course, the use of the word "nigger." Filmmaker Ferne Pearlstein (shown below) wants to know. So to that end she and her co-writer, Robert Edwards, have queried a bunch of famous comics to learn what they have to say on this subject. The result is alternately hilarious and haunting.

The latter comes via Pearlstein's movie's through-line, provided by Holocaust/Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone (below), who, at one point along the way, grows angry and frustrated at herself for her memory lapse. "Why can't I remember?!" she wonders, and is then reminded by another survivor that, regarding the concentration camps, "People who felt too much didn't make it."

Moments like this one dot the documentary, with Ms Firestone appearing off and on throughout, along with comedians such as Mel Brooks (below, using a pocket comb in one direction as Hitler, and in another to provide a look at Joe Stalin).

Also to be seen are Sarah Silverman (below), Gilbert Gottfried (in the penultimate photo) and a bunch more -- each of whom has something perceptive, funny and/or surprising to say on the subject of just how far one can or should go in the tickling-of-the-funny-bone department.

The movie keeps threatening to be all over the place, what with the back and forth between the comedians and survivor Firestone, yet it manages to stay pretty much on track and, in any case, there are enough good jokes scattered throughout to keep us entertained in between the jolts that are also provided.

To go into much further detail would only spoil some of the humor and/or surprise, The film is thought-provoking, as well as entertaining -- with a bunch of good laughs, and some that are maybe questionable. But are still pretty funny.

From The Film Collaborative and running 88 minutes, The Last Laugh opens this Friday, March 3, in NewYork City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and on Thursday, March 16, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Ahrya Fine Arts, and on March 17 at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 and Town Center 5. A national rollout will soon follow.

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