Monday, 25 May 2015

The King of Comedy (1983)

This movie came straight outta left field really, after two mean thrillers and hard hitting biographical, a black comedy felt like an odd turn. Scorsese was still kinda finding his feet at this point, almost at a fork in his career in what to do, his following two movies after this ('After Hours' and 'The Colour of Money') confirms this. From very raw emotional adult films, then branching out into a comedy, even with De Niro, seemed brave. Scorsese could of easily slipped into the mainstream realms at this time. 'After Hours' was another quirky black comedy, but the type of comedy that you could easily see Tom Hanks leading, whilst 'The Colour of Money' was most definitely a mainstream movie with the man of the moment Tom Cruise.

Luckily this didn't happen and we have a string of adult targeted movies to enjoy...mainly mobster movies. Nevertheless looking back its cool to see these more unique Scorsese projects, how he handled them and how or if his now infamous trademarks and style are still visible. First up, its a Scorsese movie, De Niro? check, New York setting? check, plot about a wacko loner? check...annnnd we're done.

The film feels like an extension of Scorsese's 1976 film 'Taxi Driver' to be honest, naturally this is down to the simple fact that De Niro plays another lonely weirdo who inadvertently becomes a hero of sorts by the end. You could almost call this a remake really, just a more light-hearted version. We follow the celebrity worshipping Rupert Pupkin (great name) as he tries his utmost to get on Jerry Langford's (Jerry Lewis) talk show with his stand-up act. This takes up pretty much the entire film until an encounter with Langford at his home shows Pupkin he has no chance of getting on the show. The ever resourceful Rupert doesn't let this fade him though as he hatches a plan to kidnap Langford in order to demand his act be shown on the talk show. At the same time Pupkin has the help of another fellow celebrity worshipper/stalker in Masha (Sandra Bernhard).

I can't help but think De Niro is gonna explode in a tidal wave of blood soaked violence when I watch this movie. Its probably down to his previous performances and roles (and the era when this was made), but its like you're just waiting for his character to pop and kick someones head in. Its really quite unnerving at times, that's how good De Niro is, the man is a twitching time bomb ready to blow. I love watching De Niro in this movie, its almost hypnotising with his little quirks, his little nuances, everything we now know about the man but ramped up to ten.

I could probably go on record saying this is one of De Niro's best performances. Not only is he uncomfortable to watch with his sleazy used car salesman-esque appearance complete with a little annoying tash, but he's both funny and kinda lovable at the same time. His character is always very polite and well mannered to everyone he meets, he's smart, gracious, keen and accepting of criticism to a degree. I adore how he oozes around the top brass in the networks main building in NY, still very polite and pleasant but also such a slippery, slimy, creep, trying his best to talk his way into a meeting with the mighty Langford. Its amusing because you know this guy probably doesn't really have much talent but he clearly thinks he does. He's clearly overly ambitious and overly confident in himself which is funny but at the same time not exactly a bad thing, that's why you kinda love the guy for persevering, he's got balls but no sense of tact.

The little moments where we see Pupkin pretending to be on the show with Langford, in conversation with him either professionally or in private and setting up his own overblown introductions for the show etc...are priceless. The funniest thing is he's doing this at his home with his mother in the next room type of thing, a typical middle aged man still living at home with him mum scenario. These brief scenes also show us how crazy Pupkin is, his room (or basement) is decorated like a real talk show studio with a big picture of an audience on one wall, mock-ups of Langford he can talk to etc...This shows us his potential scary side and makes you wonder if he will go hyper nuts at some point.

The other cast members are all very good in their roles too. Jerry Lewis really nails that old fashioned 70's (I'm guessing) talk show host look with the big rimmed glasses, dapper suits, slick hair and smoking whilst on the air. He really does look like one of your old relations in a family photo from back in the late 70's early 80's perhaps. Not only that but you really feel his frustration and anger as he puts up with the constant unwanted attention and pestering from fans and nutjobs. The scene where he confronts Pupkin at his private home is probably his strongest. I was also really impressed with Bernhard who gives us an excellently crazy yet sexy stalker. I don't much about Bernhard outside of the TV show 'Roseanne' and her role in the Bruce Willis turd 'Hudson Hawk', but towards the end of this film she really gives it her all. The sequence with her character having a romantic dinner with the kidnapped Langford (duct taped to a chair) is amusing, sexy and obviously disturbing. All three being perfect traits of Bernhard.

Of course the twist in the film is that Pupkin's stand-up routine is successful, he doesn't end up killing anyone or himself in a blaze of glory and he actually manages to achieve what he always wanted. On one hand that might seem anti-climatic but on the other hand the more predictable ending of him getting killed along with his idol would be errmm...predictable. For me this ending is just right, it could of easily been a subdued finale but I think Pupkin was too likable, as was Masha, neither of them really do anything unlikable throughout. In the end I was really happy Pupkin manages to succeed with his dream, sure he's a bit twisted and unhinged in a strangely calm way (he did kidnap someone after all), but he's still a really nice guy at the end of the day.

I like this film very much, I think its a cute yet slightly off-kilter story which shows both a gutsy win for the little guy and the heartache a famous personality may have to deal with. But at no point is it ever deadly serious to the point of being a thriller, the crime committed is serious but its all done in a very tame almost apologetic way. Its a breath of fresh air to see an early performance by De Niro where he isn't a psychopath for the mob or just out of his mind. This movie was a bomb on release and has been largely forgotten about ever since, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.