Friday, April 27, 2007

Revisit: The King of Comedy

A 20th Century Fox release 1983

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Paul D. Zimmerman

Aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) wants to achieve success in showbiz, by resorting to stalking his idol, a late night talk show host (Jerry Lewis) who craves his own privacy.

A film about obsession that lacks any subtlety, The King of Comedy feels like a retread for Scorsese: a dumber, less politically energized version of Taxi Driver. While the direction and performances are on par, the problem here lies in the script. It is at once obvious, annoying, and full of unecessary filler scenes that culminate in a tacked on conclusion about our celebrity-obsessed culture. Ironic, considering we watched it for a screenwriting class.

The only pleasure here (if one could go so far as to say anything about this film is pleasurable) is the presence of Jerry Lewis. Essentially playing a caricature of himself, Lewis is cast in a dramatic role, which he handles deftly. It's interesting to see Lewis shout and scowl as the seemingly innocent showman who's merely looking for peace of mind. Unfortunately, he's given too little to do and his role becomes moot by the third act. Scorsese however, the ever-fawning film nerd that he is, manages to toy with the trappings that come with casting such an iconic performer. The film contains many of the hyper-bright colors that were standard in Lewis comedies, and even manages to get Tony Randall into the mix, posing the film as a nod to the satirical social comedies of the 1950's. Someone must have been a Tashlin fan!

Supposedly the production of this film was so grueling that it caused a rift between Scorsese and DeNiro; the two didn't work again for nearly seven years, which is a long time considering their history. With material as shoddy as this, it's easy to see why.

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