Friday, February 3, 2012

The Jerk (1979)

The Jerk (1979) ★★★★★ 4/5

The plot line of this is really quite simple. Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) leaves home to find success. In the process he invents a piece for glasses which holds the glasses on the nose. The man who he made the invention for (Bill Macy) patents and sells the invention giving Johnson 50% of all his earnings. Johnson takes his earnings and marries Marie (Bernadette Peters). The two live happily as millionaires until a class action lawsuit is initiated by Carl Reiner. The lawsuit results in Johnson losing everything.

The humor in the fill has a lot of random, or WTF moments in them. First of all, Johnson is raised in Mississippi by a black family and has a hard time understanding why his skin has not changed to match that of his family's. He is childlike and innocent and upon his first sexual encounter with a circus performer Patty Bernstein (Catlin Adams) finds out what the "special purpose" of his penis is. He has a dog who he claims as his own and when someone suggests he calls the dog Shithead, he innocently takes the name, completely unaware that he is using a foul and offensive term. He gets a job at a gas station working for Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason) who gives him a place to live - which coincides with his own phone number. The irony of the phone number is that the listing in the phone book makes him target for a lunatic(M. Emmet Walsh) when he picks a random name out of the phone book.

The film is fun and light and Bernadette Peters shines in the film. She counterbalances Martin's wackiness and over the top ignorance. She is soft and charming on the screen. Without her, this film would not be as endearing I don't think. There is one scene in particular where the two serenade each other on the beach singing "You Belong To Me." The scene is beautiful and tender. At the same time it is also a random, WTF moment as she busts out a coronet in the middle of the song. But still, it is well played and enjoyable. In this day and age where comedy consists of over the top, one liners and cheap gags, this film excels as it does all of that while not being so exaggerated or so forced in it's use of humor that it ruins the film. While I did like this film, and would have no problem watching it again, I do have to add that my favorite Steve Martin film is, and will always be Father of the Bride (1991) - which, to my dismay is not included in the list of 1001 movies To See Before You Die.

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