Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Jerk

I'm a big fan of Steve Martin. But The Jerk, often his most acclaimed movie, even though a couple of the gags work, mostly just sits there assuming it's funny inherently. The opening works thanks to Martin's ability to lovably and believably play the idiot. There are many funny bits in the beginning, as Martin's Navin finds out that the black family that raised him actually adopted him when he was a baby "You mean I'm gonna stay this color?" he whines. Good stuff. Or when he decides to start his hitchhiking to the big city of St. Louis from the white picket gate of his family's front lawn, his family having dinner inside hours later wonders if Navin is doing okay, and they're able to just call out the window and ask him if he's alright. There are a few bits like that in the opening section that really sing.

Speaking of singing, the sweet scene of Martin and Bernadette Peters singing "Tonight You Belong to Me" on the beach is really wonderful. But the previous stuff of Martin working in the carnival, about 90% of it doesn't work. And that's how it goes for the rest of the movie. It doesn't outstay its welcome, the movie is only 94 minutes long, but it doesn't zip along either. And that's because so little of it is funny. The really funny bits are there ("Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control...) but they're sandwiched between stuff that isn't funny. Martin is brilliant at playing the idiot, but that really only gets us so far. Steve Martin the writer really lets down Steve Martin the performer in that way. And the direction from Carl Reiner is simple and unimpressive in any way.

Seeing this movie for the first time in a long time has made me hesitant to revisit beloved Steve Martin movies from my childhood like Three Amigos! or The Man with Two Brains, although I know I still love movies like Bowfinger, Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, having seen them many times as an adult. But I was sorely disappointed by my revisiting of The Jerk.

1 comment:

kathy said...

I have never liked this movie, though it is a favorite with others. I agree with you that it is simply not funny! I find Steve Martin annoying in most things, but did love him in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.