Taylor Hackford’s latest film “The Comedian” follows an aging insult comic, played by Robert De Niro, as he struggles with his professional and personal life after a month-long stint in jail. The film had its world premiere at the AFI Festival in Los Angeles this past Friday and it has so far garnered mostly negative reviews.
IndieWire’s own Ben Travers says that “The Comedian” is a “film without a purpose” and describes it as a “a comedy about comedy that just isn’t funny.” As for the film’s star, Travers says that, “De Niro shows little sign of caring what drives our darkest funnymen to say what they say on stage, playing a brash comic (think Andrew Dice Clay) in a performance with less life than the bad grandpa who ‘thunderfucked’ his way through Florida.”
The Film Stage’s Daniel Schindel echoes Travers, saying that the film is “too shallow to be a character study, uninterested in saying anything about comedy as a profession, and unconvincing as a romance.” He also argues the film might have been salvagable if it were actually funny, but instead it plays like “a feature-length episode of ‘Louie,’ but without the pathos and unintentionally unfunny.”
Variety’s Geoff Berkshire argues that De Niro “never quite sells the stand-up,” and while the film features many great actors, none of the characters are worthy of their talents. Overall, he says “‘The Comedian’ doesn’t dig deep enough to add anything substantial to the subgenre” of films and TV shows that examine the comic’s life.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Farber provides a more positive review of the film, saying that “the acting in the film is outstanding down to some of the smallest parts” and that Hackford “deserves considerable credit for guiding these performers.” However, he admits that “some of the sharp observation begins to slip away and a sour tone emerges” in the second half, and that there’s “an added level of discomfort” watching De Niro’s character in the wake of Trump’s election win.
Finally, The Guardian’s Lanre Bakare praises the film with a 3-star review saying that Hackford “creates something between the slapstick daftness of ‘Bad Grandpa’ and the existential darkness of ‘Louie.'” Though he admits “the storyline does get frayed towards the end,” he says “that’s not really the point; as long as you’re here for the dick jokes.”
“The Comedian” is scheduled for theatrical release on January 13, 2017 from Sony Pictures Classics.