The King of Comedy (1982) review

The King of Comedy (1982) review

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"Ho. Ho. Ho."?
“Ho. Ho. Ho.”?

Twitter Plot Summary: De Niro’s Pupkin wants to be where Jerry Lewis’ Langford currently is. So, he stalks his idol. Naturally.

Combine the method acting of Robert De Niro with the comedic acting talent of Jerry Lewis, and what happens? Well, this film, The King of Comedy. De Niro is small-time comedian Rupert Pupkin, a man who has the desire, but not necessarily the talent to hit the big time in the business, even if his age and constant lack of success are hindering his almost deluded sense of self belief in his product. Still, if nothing else he is at least able to put some skills to good use by stalking Jerry Langford, a late night chat show host who is in many respects the opposite of Pupkin, a man who still lives at home with his mother.

This all culminates with De Niro putting his famed method style of acting to good use by performing a stand-up routine in the final act. While I personally didn’t find the jokes all that great, in the context of the story it’s a routine that goes down well with the fictional studio audience and is an important moment for the character, despite the dubious methods he used in order to get a slot on Jerry’s show. But I’ll not go into detail on that point, lest it spoil the film for you. Can’t be doing that now, can we?

When analysing the two central characters of Rupert and Jerry, you get to see two sides of the grand circle of fame. Jerry’s been there and done that, recognised on the street and regularly mobbed by fans following his television shows. Then there’s Pupkin who is trying to reach that level by whatever means necessary. It acts as a subtle discussion about the pressures of fame and the lengths people will go to in order to reach that level. Furthermore, there is Jerry Lewis’s very restrained rage and anger at Pupkin’s methods which is a constant source of entertainment, gradually becoming more and more frustrated the more frequently he and Pupkin cross paths. And because Pupkin is a stalker extraordinaire, that is quite frequently indeed.

Oh, he wasn't lying.
Oh, he wasn’t lying.

In the grand scheme of things I didn’t enjoy it to the same level as I have with many of Scorsese’s other films. Yes, the performances from Lewis and De Niro are exceptional but it lacks something that makes much of Scorsese’s other films such essential viewing. Maybe it’s that outside of Pupkin’s stalking methods I really dislike Sandra Bernhard’s antagonistic face and acting, or that it didn’t seem to do much to expand on Pupkin’s reasoning or borderline obsessive personality. Or maybe it was my dislike of De Niro’s hairstyle.

If there’s nothing else proven by these complaints, first it probably proves Bernhard’s a really good actor and, in this film, in very good company. Second, that by drawing focus on one aspect of Pupkin’s obsessiveness was necessary lest a 3 hour film occur (not outside of Scorsese’s abilities). And, finally, Pupkin’s hairstyle is just another aspect of the character that you can enjoy disliking.

So… I kinda liked it then?

Yes, I kinda did.

Score: 3/5

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