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Most people think Robert De Niro got his comedy start in Meet the
Parents. Very few people know Robert De Niro was at one time The King
of Comedy, delivering one liners and an unforgettable monologue. He
literally brought the house down on the Jerry Langford show.
This is not to say that Robert De Niro was in fact a stand up comedian. He was the star of The King of Comedy (1983). De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, a struggling comedian in his mid 30's. Pupkin idolizes the host of network televisions most popular late show, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Pupkin approaches Langford, after saving him from a teaming mob of fans, about making his debut on the show. Langford, being polite, tells Pupkin to call his office to arrange an appointment. Rupert does not know the 'Hollywood' way of being polite and assumes Langford is serious. Rupert begins calling the show's office trying to arrange a meeting. He finally goes to the office to set up a meeting in person. Rupert speaks to Cathy Long, a talent coordinator for the show and she assumes he is a real aspiring comic. Pupkin makes a tape to show off his talents to Miss Long and Langford. From that point on the film takes an interesting journey through the eyes of an obsessed comedian, determined to make his break into show business.
The plot of the movie is phenomenal. It doesn't make any unexpected twists, but it does make some slight turns that were not expected. The story, written by Paul D. Zimmerman, is good, but without a great cast it could not be nearly as successful as it is. Each actor embodies the qualities that make the character unique.
Robert De Niro is spectacular in his portrayal of Rupert Pupkin. Once this film is viewed it will be hard to imagine anyone else taking this role to greater heights. De Niro plays Pupkin with an innocence that at many points makes the viewer feel heartbroken. Pupkin's approach to show business is polite and determined, thanking everyone as he leaves the building. De Niro leaves some great awkward pauses between lines, in the conversation with the receptionist, that leave the viewer leaning forward in anticipation.
De Niro's portrayal of Pupkin is juxtaposed with Sandra Bernhard's depiction of Masha, another overly obsessed fan. Both characters are obsessed with Langford - just in different ways. Masha stalks Langford, sneaking into his car, waiting outside his office, and following him down the street. She is the true definition of a stalker even making phone calls to his personal residence. When placed side by side Masha and Pupkin are a dynamic duo. Bernhard's lunatic outbreaks and absurd rambling about her love for Langford are priceless.
Langford himself is a caricature of many different late night talk show hosts. Jerry Lewis departs from his classic absurd comedy to become an annoyed and stuck-up famous comedian. Lewis keeps his perturbed attitude through the entire picture. At one point Langford and Pupkin have an argument in which Pupkin says 'Well I'm sorry. I made a mistake' and Langford's response is 'So did Hitler.' Lewis portrays Langford as the typical Hollywoodite, having people bring him autograph books to sign and detesting everyone who surrounds him (for their incompetence).
The story and actors are brought together by legendary director Martin Scorsese, famous for Gangs of New York, Casino, and Goodfellas. His touch can be felt through the entire film. It is a hard essence to describe, but when shooting De Niro, Scorsese chose to make him powerful yet vulnerable. This shows the character's determination as well as his relative inadequacy.
Before anyone passes judgment, this is not the average Scorsese film. Pupkin is a character that is consumed in his delusions of being famous, but is not just a mental case. Aside from being slightly delusional, he is a sweet character who approaches every situation from a naïve point of view. When asked if Mr. Langford was expecting him Pupkin responds 'Yes, I don't think he is.' It is not hard to find one rooting for Rupert to succeed, and not only become famous but to get the girl too. One has to appreciate a character whose motives are based on good instead of evil. The King of Comedy is a drama, a comedy, and a crime film on top of all the rest. Along with those classifications it is also a lovable innocent film about a man who wants nothing more than to be famous. Can you blame him? In the final scene when Pupkin is being introduced, it is hard not to feel some gratification. Rupert Pupkin everybody.
Acting is one of the most key elements to success or failure of a film.
Some film types can survive without superb acting. These motion
pictures can entertain the viewer with special effects or intense
action scenes. A film based on heavy dialog and back-story can not
survive with out excellent actors. One such movie that meets the
dialog-based criterion is The Big Lebowski. The film follows Jeff 'The
Dude' Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) and his two close friends through a not
so normal chain of events. The story is augmented by the supporting
characters Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). Written by
Joel and Ethan Coen, the creative forces behind Fargo, the intriguing
story succeeds because of the actors' impeccable skill.
As with many other films by the Coen brothers The Big Lebowski is an odd array of out of the ordinary characters slapped right in the middle of an improbable situation. The Dude is an unlikely hero living in the city of Los Angeles who becomes embroiled in a botched kidnapping. This is not the average kidnapper comedy that has been seen a thousand times before. The Coen brothers take a fresh look at an old tired subject. The story they have created is intriguing and entertaining, but the true entertainment comes from the unique characters. Walter, played by John Goodman, is a Vietnam veteran who seems to have some parts of post traumatic stress syndrome. Donny, another one of The Dude's close friends, is a quiet unassuming character who often interjects into conversation, but no one pays close attention to what he says.
As well as these characters are written, they would not be as effective had they been played by other actors. This effectiveness of acting can be seen in the opening scene at the bowling alley where the supporting characters are first introduced. This scene is comprised of Donny, Walter, and The Dude sitting at their lane in the bowling alley discussing the attack on The Dude by some hired thugs (7min 25 sec). The Dude is approaching the situation in his usual lackadaisical way. Jeff Bridges conveys The Dude's overall demeanor in his laid back, sauntering, walk. Although being laid back, Bridges is direct in his speaking showing that The Dude is not the average confused old stoner. Bridges facial expressions during this scene show The Dude is distressed about the loss of his rug which 'tied the room together.'
Donny seems to be an outside observer in this scene and throughout much of the film. Buscemi conveys his character's attention during discussion by following the flow of the conversation with his head. He looks from The Dude to Walter and from Walter to The Dude depending on who is talking. He may seem to be paying attention, but his asking of simple questions dispels this assumption. Another technique Buscemi uses is while he is observing the conversation he furrows his brow as if in deep thought and contemplation. This look of concentration is juxtaposed with the look of confused happiness, an empty smile, Buscemi uses when Donny makes a point in the conversation. These techniques which are introduced by Bridges and Buscemi early in the film are used throughout the entire picture.
Although Bridges and Buscemi do an excellent job of introducing their characters traits to the viewer, Goodman superbly shows his character's inner traits. Throughout the conversation it is apparent due to dialog that Walter is becoming upset. Goodman conveys this anger with facial expressions and body movement. In the early part of the conversation Goodman puts on a stone face to show that Walter is firmly set in his position. The Dude begins to agitate Walter as the conversation continues. Goodman shows this agitation by furrowing his brow, leaning forward while talking, and turning progressively redder. As Goodman continues, his speaking becomes more staccato and flustered. When The Dude refers to one of the attackers as 'the china man,' Walter continues on his tirade momentarily then quietly addresses the non politically correct nature of The Dude's comment. Changing from this aggravated manner of speaking to a more politically correct and lower tone shows that Walter has some sudden mood swings and a short fuse, as he returns to his tirade quickly.
This scene exemplifies the acting skills of John Goodman, Jeff Bridges, and Steve Buscemi. The characters in this story have been given interesting and entertaining dialog by the writers, but it is up to the actors to make the characters exude a certain feeling or trait. In each of their roles the three main actors add a level of feeling to the characters that is lacking from many of the offerings of the dark comedy genre. Goodman's portrayal of Walter as the 'know it all' with a short fuse is downright hilarious. Jeff Bridges steps out of his usually serious persona to portray a character as laid back as they come, 'quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles county.' Steve Buscemi is as entertaining as ever. His depiction of Donny, the character to rarely speak, adds depth to an otherwise bland side character. After viewing this film one can see why actors who can actually practice their craft are worth their weight in gold.