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In ‘The Comedian,’ Robert De Niro tries and fails to live up to the film’s title

Monday 30th, January 2017 / 15:17
By Hogan Short

VANCOUVER — When The Comedian’s opening credits first appear, they tell us promisingly we are about to watch Hollywood icons like Harvey Keitel, Danny Devito, Billy Crystal, and, of course, the film’s star: Robert De Niro. Only two minutes into The Comedian and I was already excited that De Niro might end his streak of confused roles and comedic misfires (hello, Dirty Grandpa!) I was quickly proved wrong. I became disappointed with not only De Niro, but myself for being duped by the once-mighty Don.

The Comedian stars Robert De Niro as aging insult comic Jackie Burke. Once with a successful career, Burke now struggles to remain relevant in a world obsessed with going viral. When an obnoxious web series team tries to hijack his poorly-attended act, he physically attacks them, resulting in Burke being court-ordered to do community service. This is where he meets Harmony, played by Leslie Mann, who is the only refreshing character in the movie, as a result. She seems to be the only person he is remotely decent to and, as their relationship grows, the film completely forgets the community service plot. This happens often.

The Comedian is, regretfully, no king of comedy.

The Comedian follows Burke’s comeback as he shows all the different ways he can be unlikeable. We watch him reluctantly attend his niece’s wedding and be nothing but an ignorant asshole to his entire family and guests. We watch him repeatedly interact rudely and selfishly with his family, his friends, and his manager. Burke’s mean-spirited narcissism could be overlooked if the standup material written for the character been funny, but it only comes off as crude, mean spirited, and worst of all, unfunny. A protagonist doesn’t necessarily need to be likeable, but they do have to be interesting. De Niro has a history of making unlikeable characters interesting—The King of Comedy comes to mind—but Burke is uninteresting and unlikeable, and in a light-hearted comedic story of redemption this is a pivotal problem. The script attempts to give us a reason to empathize with Jackie Burke but they formulaically inject this in so abruptly, it only convolutes things further.

The Comedian feels like a film that was only ever intended for an older audience. I don’t say this because of the older age of the cast but because of how out of touch the entire thing feels. Whoever the audience is I don’t think they will be laughing.

The Comedian is in theatres Feb. 3.

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