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Interview-style biography of controversial and pioneering stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce. The film traces Bruce from his beginnings as a Catskills comic to his later underground popularity based on his anti-establishment politics and his scatological humor. Written by
Scott Renshaw <email@example.com>
To be honest I don't think the rest of the film quite deserves 8 stars, but Dustin Hoffman's performance as Lenny Bruce is so extraordinary that it lifts the movie up to that rating.
Made in a fairly familiar quasi-documentary style, 'Lenny' begins with 'present day' (i.e. 1974) interviews with the surviving characters from Lenny's life, cut with flashbacks to his 1950's beginnings as a 'traditional' comic, and 'late' live performances in his post-drug-bust days. As the film progresses and the narrative catches up with the interviews, the gaps between these segments 'close'. Clever use is made of some of Lenny's material, cutting from keywords or phrases in his bits, to events in his life with inspired or correlated to them.
All the same there is something a little dry and disappointing in the film's structure: almost as if it could have used a more conventional, linear narrative, like Milos Forman's tribute to Andy Kauffman, 'Man on the Moon' would use to such great effect 25 years later.
Ironically though, such a structure might have deprived of us of seeing more of Hoffman doing Lenny's bits 'live' on stage - and for me these were the highlights, which I wish had lasted longer, rather than flashing back to some past event after 30 seconds. As a big Lenny Bruce fan, I can only say that Hoffman's portrayal is almost supernatural. It's like he's channeling the guy. He has his mannerisms and improvisational style down perfectly. You would swear you were seeing these improvisations for the first time if you hadn't heard them already. In fact, Hoffman possibly even improves on Lenny's delivery in one small respect. Lenny had a penchant for the 'conversation' that would erupt in the middle of one of his bits, between two or more characters. Hoffman probably puts a bit more distinction between the characters than Lenny often did (quite often they would all just sound like Lenny, which was part of the magic, but never mind.) Over 30 years on, it's quite amazing to me that this film has become a relative obscurity in Dustin Hoffman's filmography. Frankly, though Hoffman has blown me away on various occasions, I don't ever remember being more blown away than this. And if you were to pick easy people to imitate, I doubt Lenny Bruce on stage would be high on many people's lists.
The film as a whole is good, but to witness Hoffman channeling Bruce, it's a must-see.
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