The Jerk (1979)
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P.S. If you're a worried parent wondering if this movie is okay for your child to see, let him / her see it. It's actually pretty tame. I couldn't tell what made it an R-rated movie.
Whatever, there is still a lot of good laughs in year, subtle and slapstick variety. Now I laugh more at the subtle things. Almost all the characters in here, beginning with Steve Martin's "Navin R. Johnson," are wacky. Bernadette Peters, by the way, never looked prettier. This was in the earlier days of the ratings system and that PG rating would be at least PG-13 today. It still fun to see it after a long absence. Martin was on a roll back in those days, "a wild and crazy guy," and it's good that he's still entertaining us -- years later, although in a more subtle way. Hey, he's getting older, too.
Steve martin is truly a comic genius. I heard from a friend he's got a Super human IQ and he puts it to such good use. He portrays brilliance in comical situations, witty conversations and his energy is extra-ordinary. Bernadette peters is beautiful and quite enchanting herself. " loved the song they played with the Ukulele and the saxophone. Beautiful !
This flick is way ahead of its time, and the original spoof of many old and future Hollywood movies. With a ritz to rubble or a rags to riches kinda story and a light-hearted touch, this is a FUNNY FUNNY movie right from the start till the end that guarantees to tickle your funny bones for sure !! Cheers !
REVIEW BY JOHN ULMER
Steve Martin had basically gained a burst of fame before starring in Carl Reiner's wacky comedy "The Jerk." Martin was fresh off hosting "Saturday Night Live" a few times, and had made a few albums and stand-up gigs. But "The Jerk" is what established him as an on-screen comedian.
Martin plays a lame-brain fool, who lives with his family on a plantation farm. Only one problem. His family is black, he is white. After coming to facts about his racial status, Martin flees from the scene and heads for the downtown gig. He is suckered out of - and into - many things throughout the film. Not as much of because he is innocent as he is dumb, however. Unlike comedies like "Blast From the Past" where the main character is treated bad and doesn't realize it because he/she is innocent and has no idea what to expect from life, Martin gets treated bad and doesn't realize it because he is stupid, not only because he is innocent.
The Jerk starts out working at a gas station. Some of the funniest scenes occur here. One, is when a madman with a sniper rifle is shooting at Martin and misses. Martin, being The Jerk, thinks the man is purposely shooting at paint cans. He says, "Hey! It's the cans! He must hate the cans! Stay away from the cans!" Another is when he gets a home...living in a bathroom. ("Like it? I LOVE it!") And one that has always gotten my funnybone is when Martin looks in a phone book and sees his name. "I'm a person now!" He yells. This is true, of course. All of us feel like more than just skin after seeing our names printed somewhere. I recall first seeing my name as a reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes. It feels great to have your name written somewhere, because you know that someone, somewhere, saw that name and put it in. Someone read one of my movie reviews. Though Martin's character takes it to a new extreme, it is nevertheless true. When you sign your name on a document, the document becomes active and real. So why should it not be the same with Martin's character? Perhaps while he is a jerk, he is at the same time smart. Nah, he's just stupid.
"The Jerk" carved a place for itself in history. I had really never seen any comedy like it before. "Airplane" was released the same year, and the humor was much the same, as well as the editing (see below), but I saw "The Jerk" first, and it was an odd surprise. The humor is by itself. It is so odd and original that it makes it one of the best. Martin went on to make the less-successful "The Man with Two Brains," also directed by Reiner. The film is much the same, but does not work to the same degree. Too many jokes fall flat. Unlike "The Jerk," where the jokes start to fall flat in the middle and pick up again at the end, "The Man with Two Brains" had its hit-and-misses almost the whole way through. It was a fine comedy, but not great at all.
Steve Martin brings his character to life. He is one of the absolute dumbest, innocent, naive individuals I have ever seen on screen. But what makes him work so well is Martin. Martin behind it all. But the thing is, Martin dissolves himself completely into character. He is so stupid that you can't help but laugh. In "The Naked Gun" (1988) Leslie Nielsen used a dumb character and played him smart, deadpan, serious. Like everything he was saying and doing was normal. Martin does the same, but in a different way. He doesn't play him deadpan and smart. He plays a dumb character dumb, having no idea what he is saying and doing is wrong. And another interesting aspect is that even though Martin disguises himself as The Jerk, we can still see Martin shining through. Martin can play versatile actors (see "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" - 1987), but Martin is still inside. We can see him shining through. That is why Steve Martin is one of my favorite comedians. He can envelop his character, yet at the same time keep the Martin charm. That's why I can usually expect solid laughs from a Martin vehicle.
Director Carl Reiner does a few out-of-place cuts in "The Jerk," just like he did in "The Man with Two Brains," but I think that it worked overall. Part of what makes this movie so funny and goofy is how the editing is so odd. So many scenes are out of place and pay nothing to the film. But like I said, that is what makes it so original and stupid.
The film loses some steam halfway through, and the jokes sometimes fall flat, but overall the comedy is one of the best of its genre. I would say it is Martin's best comedy, but that spot is saved for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" which co-stars John Candy. THAT movie is Steve Martin's best, and always will be.
Overall, "The Jerk" is one of the most original, wacky, and wild and crazy (Martin reference intended) comedies ever. See it for laughs, plain and simple.
Navin R. Johnson, raised by poor Mississippi Black Sharecroppers, on his birthday "feels different" like he "doesn't belong." His "Mother" reveals the shocking news, Navin's not their natural born child! "But we raised you like you were one of us!" Navin delivers the spine-splitting laughter comment, "You mean I'm gonna stay this color?" and gets depressed. One night, however, he hears a catchy jazz tune on the radio (The song BTW is called "Crazy Rhythm.") and starts dancing around the house all excited and motivated! "This is the kind of music that tells me to go out there and be somebody!!!!" With renewed energy and a new outlook on life, Navin sets out to find his "Special Purpose." (Which he KNOWS is out there.)
However, his lack of intelligence lands him in some of the funniest situations ever seen in any movie. For instance, he gets a job at a gas station where the owner persuades him to work "for $1.10 an hour!" "How much?" Navin asks. The owner repeats, "$1.10 an hour." Navin is overcome with emotion, "You'll pay me, $1.10 if I work here an hour!!!???" He than writes back home to his family:
"Folks, I got this great job at a gas station! I don't wanna say how much I'm making, but let's just say IT'S A LOT!! I'm enclosing $2.00!"
Watch for so many scenes like this and some all-time great lines by Steve Martin as only he can deliver them. Comedy doesn't get any better. You are guaranteed to crack up every time you watch this movie!
Standouts are when he is being chased by a sniper at a gas station! Navin makes some HILARIOUS comments about cans that he thinks are defective because the sniper is shooting at him and keeps hitting the cans!!! "These cans are defective!!!" Navin says, "There springing leaks!" STAY AWAY FROM THE CANS!!! Navin also takes jobs at a traveling carnival roadshow as a weight-guesser and has more great lines when a Midway participant asks what prizes he can win! There he meets a very jealous motorcycle lady. (There is some course R-rated situations in this part of the movie.)
He also meets a dear sweet lady played by Bernadette Peters in a WONDERFUL supporting role. A bizarre invention makes him a millionaire, but the effects of the product force him into a lawsuit in which he loses everything and goes back to the foster family that still loves him.
Steve Martin was BORN to play this role! I can't say enough great things about this classic film! The only problem is that the theatrical version is missing a lot of alternative clips that can be found on the TV version: These include:
1.) Navin elaborating with Mr. Hartoonian at the gas station about making $1.10/hr.
2.) A Texas Millionaire conning Navin into giving money to fix the cracked seats on his airplane.
3.) Navin, depressed and despondent in a scene where after Marie leaves him, he goes up on an amusement park ride feeling "so broke that he had to spin."
4.) Navin telling his "Mother" that he had been waiting for his skin to change color, "any year now." I have been waiting for Universal to release a DVD of The Jerk that contains this added footage It may be awhile, so I will probably just have to get the DVD as is. It would be nice to have these added scenes included on a future DVD.
However, this is a movie that is brilliant on all counts and only seems to get even better with time! A Special Edition DVD if released will (hopefully) finally give "The Jerk" the royal classic treatment that it deserves!
All you need is a chair, remote control, TV set, a channel or DVD, or a tape of the movie, a VCR or DVD player to see the movie and that's all you need! And remember! "STAY AWAY FROM THE CANS!"
MArtin is NAvin Johnson,a dim bulb of a dude with a good heart whose story begins with him being raised as the son of black share-croppers in the deep south. It never really occurs to him as a youth that he is different from his adopted kinfolk all the way into adulthood before he discovers that he doesn't have rhythm on his(18th)birthday. Deciding that he needs to leave home to find his identity,he embarks on a misadventure that takes him from working odd jobs to becoming a super-rich inventor/entrepreneur. Along the way,he finds love in an equally dull but extremely cute beautician(Bernadette Peters).
MArtin's full-on commitment to character and Carl Reiner's cooperative direction make this film a delightfully odd and fitfully funny. MArtin fans of all stripes will feel the need to own this one!
If you are even paying attention to the camera direction, or anything technical about this film you just don't get it. I have seen the Jerk so many times I know it by heart and i swear I laugh everytime. Best comedy ever. YES!
Martin himself acts brilliantly, and of course provides 90% of the films' comedy. He plays an adorable yet idiotic middle-aged man whose trying to begin his adult life on his own. Supporting roles from Bernadette Peters and Catlin Adams are performed very well and are great additions to the film. Even the cameo by Jackie Mason is hilarious.
The script is a bit familiar but the dialogue and slap-stick routines and scenes are brilliantly choreographed by the director, writers and actors alike.
Overall, this is a classic comedy film with some great laughs and can be enjoyed by all.
I really think I wouldn't have enjoyed my time with this character if I hadn't read Martin's book first. Knowing his stand-up background made it fun to spot tired and true aspects throughout the movie. You have the juggling, the ukulele, and the "all I need is this ashtray, and I don't need anything else, well except this paddle-game, all I need is this ashtray and the paddle-game and these matches " schtick that surprising goes on long in the film, but never gets old. I think it has to do with the way it is shot, in a still-framed composition as he gradually goes further and further away, his voice getting softer and softer. It really is well-orchestrated and credit goes to either he or director Carl Reiner for the success. There are definite lulls in the action, as is inherent in films like this being a stream of jokes tied together, but there is bound to be some failures amongst the true gems. When the laughs hit, though, they hit pretty hardeven if it might just be because of how off-the-wall the gag is.
For a guy like Martin, fresh off of his club appearances and television variety shows, he is quite a natural. The Jerk marks his first major film role, the lead part in his own movie, something that shows how powerful he was based on record sales alone and no real reputation for acting on screen. He gets his wild and crazy guy dancing involved along with other staples from his repertoire to help the audience find their bearings and remember that this is the guy they hear at home every night for laughs. This really is the start of a powerhouse's career and he planned it out to perfection.
Having a supporting cast like he does can't hurt either. Bernadette Peters did not have many film jobs beforehand, probably just known mostly for her stage work. Her vocal prowess is on display as well as her comedic timing and blank face reactions to Martin's antics. I don't know if anyone else could have taken his face lick with such class. Martin's family is a lot of fun too, always singing and dancing and trying their best to make him a part of the group. I really enjoyed Dick Anthony Williams as his brother Taj. This is the one person who understands the absurdity of the situation and when Navin writes home about the possibility of a new job from his girlfriend, Williams' smirk and laughter is absolutely fantastic.
A lot works and plenty doesn't, but when you understand the film's place in history, you must give it a lot of credit. People took a chance on this unproven young man and ushered in a new era of comedians. With "Saturday Night Live" beginning it's perpetual lifespan around the same time, The Jerk became a sign of things to come. If you look at the comedy world today, everything seems to be manifested from the minds of comedians who started on stage or in TV. Shows are based on comedy acts and films molded from characters. Most of them fail miserably, but the strong success of a select few keep the money flowing, hoping to discover that next new cash cow. With scenes like those at the gas station here, Navin's first real job, you can't help but feel as though it could have been a skit translated and expanded for screen. Between Jackie Mason's utter wonderment at his employee's penchant for jubilance and M. Emmet Walsh's search for a random civilian to murder, the scene is the highlight of a film chock full of good one-liners. When Martin looks at the exploding oil cans and then at the gun-toting whackjob, he screams, "that guy really hates cans!" I couldn't stop laughing as he gets cornered by a coca-cola machine and a can display indoors. It is comedy gold and with plenty more to complement, you will be smiling once the credits roll.
Steve Martin stars as Navin Johnson, a man who grew up thinking he was black and eventually sets out to find his greater purpose. Johnson is naive, stupid, ignorant, but lovable guy, and the film shows how the people around him turn him into...a jerk. This is easily Martin's best character role. He does such a great job handling the subtlety of the humor without playing the absurd moments too over-the-top. He really carries this film.
The odd humor manifests itself through jokes like when Johnson tells his girlfriend Marie (Bernadette Peters) what their time together has felt like, describing first day as feeling like a week, the second day felt like two days, etc. and when he writes home to his family and says "remember when I dreamed about having a big house with _____?" and then he describes with great detail all the absurd rooms in his mansion he could never have actually dreamed of as a child. It's all very original and will definitely appeal more to people who appreciate what makes each joke funny.
So the writing, which is mostly Martin and the acting, which is mostly Martin, are the aspects of the film most worthy of praise. None of the other characters are really written well enough to add anything significant to the comedy, so its the Steven Martin Show. In fact, if you'd told me he did it based on a Saturday Night Live character I would have easily believed you. Either way, this is an odd but easy to love, easy to watch comedy. It's truly different and definitely stands out.
In my opinion.
Well, about a week or so ago, my 14-year-old grandson asked me if I wanted to watch "Joe Dirt" with him, and based upon the reviews I had read, I wanted to say no, but I could tell it was important to him. Well, "Joe Dirt" is by no means that great, but I was amazed that I found myself laughing at it. And after the movie was over, it occurred to me that, if my grandson liked this story-of-a-loser's-life-as-told-by-the-loser, he would at least enjoy "The Jerk", which uses a similar plot device. Of course, "The Jerk" is not at all as raunchy and gross as "Joe Dirt", which tries to emulate the Farrelly brothers. But I still had hope that my grandson might enjoy it, so I rented it so we could watch it together.
My grandson roared! I have never heard him laugh so loud and so often while watching any movie. He could not contain himself during the scenes in Navin Johnson's old shack of a home, where he believed he grew up as a part of a poor but close African-American family in Mississippi. He loved the part when the crazy guy picks out Navin's name from the telephone book by pure chance, and tries to shoot him, but Navin, in his stupidity, thinks the guy is really trying to shoot the oil cans right next to him, because the crazed sniper (M. Everett Walsh) keeps accidentally hitting them when he misses Navin. And when Navin finally gets the courage to be intimate with Marie (Bernadette Peters), and as we are all expecting an amorous kiss, he licks the side of her face! OK, OK, it's stupid, but it's also hilarious! My grandson was roaring with laughter throughout, including the bit about "And I don't need anything! Well, I need this thing here. But I don't need anything else! Well, I need this..."
"The Jerk" made me laugh all over again. It has become funnier with age, even though some of the jokes are dated. (By the way, even a classic comedy such as "Blazing Saddles" has become dated due to its lame ending.)
And I noticed that some reviewers actually find "The Jerk" to be a racist movie. Why? Because of the one scene in which the N-word was used and turned into great satire? They must have watched a totally different film than the one I have watched over the years. Or has political correctness totally gone crazy and lost all sense of humor?