I love stand-up. Whenever there’s a new Netflix special starring one of my favorite comics, I’m on it immediately. Robert De Niro has been a long-time favorite of mine, as well—being completely honest, the two work beautifully together on-screen. Odd to hear that he never actually did stand-up…seems he has the wit for it.
As aging insult comic Jackie Burke, De Niro shines. Faced with new, more sensitive audiences and adversity from within his circle of friends and family, he struggles finding his zone again so late in life. Alongside him, other legends of Hollywood—like Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel, and Cloris Leachman—as well as popular names in comedy, like Hannibal Buress and Billy Crystal as themselves, form the primary cast. Their characters create an interesting universe present in the film, and differing chemistries and familial levels with De Niro’s Burke.
Edie Falco’s role as Burke’s agent is a bit muted, to start off, but to effect; her character really comes from behind in act three to surprise the audience. Leslie Mann’s Harmony is her own woman, but still vulnerable. She is appreciative of Jackie’s attempts at levity and determination at living up to his potential—a trait that only comes with age. De Niro, himself, is hilarious, the perfect blend of crotchety old man, comic out of time, and wholesome human being. I like that he’s a New Yorker, playing a New Yorker. He delivers that down-home authenticity that actors try to, but can’t quite, fabricate. He’s as Big Apple as they come, and it made the film allthemore entertaining, for me.
This film speaks to the “generational gap”; what’s funny to the older folks isn’t necessarily to the younger, millennial audiences Burke tends to perform to. That’s life, though. Like any good celeb, he roles with it and adapts. I loved the stand-up bits in various comedy clubs and other venues. Clearly, De Niro’s talent stretches beyond some of his bigger, more legendary roles. His character plays off of people’s heckling, changing up his routine and always keeping it lively. It’s like I was actually sitting in a cellar club, watching a live stage comic. Very fresh.
The script-writers utilize the standard rom-com model, but that doesn’t mean it’s not engaging. The relationship that develops, to Burke’s surprise, is exactly what he needs, what he’s been missing in his life—a chance to make something of himself and leave a not-so-crude mark on the world, after he’s gone. It’s a nice arc—for De Niro’s character and all those involved.
The cinematography, as well, is astounding. From the dingy, rain-drenched streets of New York to the sunny dales of Florida and back, the transitions are seamless and real. The characters move between environments like actual people, and the immersion aspect is never lost. Amidst all the comedy, though, there are lots of heartfelt moments. It grounds the film in reality, forces the characters—and us—to think about what really matters in life, if it’s such a good idea to go down swinging, or to create a legacy that others can look back on and smile.
I. Loved. This film—definitely a second-viewing candidate. I give Taylor Hackford’s The Comedian a wholesome ****/*. If you’re a stand-up fan or follower of De Niro, get out and see this one (made for a measly $15M). Support indie cinema!!
Next review: The Space Between Us