Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Jerk

(Carl Reiner, 1977)
Steve Martin's first feature embeds a pretty much unretouched wild-and-crazee-guy character into a stock Hollywood rags-to-riches scenario. While he's overplaying to the hilt, the camera is deadpan, and so are the other performers; this gives it a classic feel. But it's also got random bursts of absurdist energy that keep you on your toes. The plot is such a foregone conclusion that all the substance comes from the random yet somehow obvious jokes they scatter about the surface, and these are a lot of fun. Bernadette Peters is great as the primary love interest, especially when she faces off with the secondary love interest, a hilariously butch circus performer. The racial comedy of the setup is impressively controlled; the joke is always on this dumb white guy. And while Martin knew all too well that his loud moron act had its limits, here he's milking it for all it's worth instead of gesturing nervously at the strange world of good taste.

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