I have zero interest in seeing “Rings” or “The Space Between Us” this opening weekend, so I chose to take my mother to a special screening of “The Comedian,” an Indie comedy with an all-star cast. I asked her if I would be crushing her spirits if I panned this movie, and she said it wouldn’t, and the important thing is she is spending time with me. That’s nice. But the movie is mean-spirited, overly-emotional, and 97% unfunny. My mother agrees with me on those elements, but found a few laughs. I laughed once, and that’s when the main comedian is on a viral rap video. The way it presents itself is pretty funny, but nothing else in “The Comedian” works.
The movie stars Robert De Niro as comedian Jackie Burke, the only remaining actor of his hit television classic “Eddie’s Home,” which to me looks fake because of its bad acting and unconvincing cinematography. He has to perform community service for attacking a webisode cameraman, and ends up dating an unhappy singleton named Harmony (Leslie Mann), who has a longer sentence for attacking her unfaithful ex-boyfriend.
Among the family drama these two deal with, Jackie’s brother (Danny Devito, shockingly unfunny) and sister-in-law (Patti LuPone) turn on him for only coming to their Jewish deli for money and using his explicit jokes at their Lesbian daughter’s wedding. And Harmony’s father (Harvey Keitel) is an even worse person, who wants her to come home in Boca Raton to work at his exclusive retirement home.
For a movie about a comedian, this has its humor in the wrong place. “Top Five” with Chris Rock and “Sleepwalk with Me” with Mike Birbiglia both had the kind of heart that is often shunned upon in movies these days, whereas this one barely solves its issues, and flash forwards eight years after 2016 thinking I could just change the subject. And where is the funny bone in Jackie’s agent (Edie Falco)? What’s the point of representing a comedian, if she doesn’t laugh?
You also have an all-star cast, including Charles Grodin and Cloris Leachman, and out of all the cameos (Hannibal Buress, Richard Belzer, Gilbert Gottfried, and Jimmie Walker), the only one who does work is Billy Crystal. That made my mother happy, and that’s what I like to see her be. I think De Niro is going through the motions lately, and I think only Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell can whip him back into shape. And I think Leslie Mann is a sweet actress, but here, the movie only uses her drama, making this even more depressing than her inner sadness in “Vacation.” At the very least, it wasn’t as painfully bad as De Niro’s “Dirty Grandpa.”