Sometimes I find myself afraid of comedies. Perhaps I’ve been caught too often in gags that run for way too long, or punch lines that aim at the lowest hanging fruit. I wasn’t always this way – I used to laugh my ass off at POLICE ACADEMY…or better yet, POLICE ACADEMY3!
So perhaps it was time to remember where I came from – remember the guy who used to love SCTV and Royal Canadian Air Farce.
I do believe it was time for me to finally hang out with THE JERK.
“The Jerk” in question is Steve Martin as Navin R. Johnson, a simpleton who is raised by adopted parents after being left on their doorstep. When he finally comes to understand the truth about his past, he sees it as a prompt to chase down his future, and so he strikes out on his own. It’s then that he gets a job in a gas station, and happens to suggest a million dollar idea to one of his customers. Before he can cash in, he goes off to work in a travelling carnival. It’s there that he meets Marie (Bernadette Peters) who takes a shining to him despite – or perhaps because of – his simple nature.
Not long after Navin and Marie get together, his million dollar idea bears fruit and allows the most unlikely millionaires since The Beverly Hillbillies to stake their claim.
THE JERK had me wondering about all of the loveable dummies that count as descendants of Steve Martin. Think about it – if this film were made in a different year, it’s not that hard to imagine Jim Carrey playing this character, or Vince Vaughan, or Will Ferrell, or Zach Galifianakis.
However, when I watch Martin in this movie, I feel as though he has an innocence about him that many comedians nowadays lack (including Martin himself). There’s no self-awareness happening, nothing mean-spirited. You might not believe that Navin is as dim as Martin plays him, but you never feel like he’s making fun of the people in the world who are.
You see why his adopted family would worry so much about him, why Jackie Mason would give him a job, and why Bernadette Peters would give him the time of day. There’s something wholesome about him, something that wants to make people proud and make something of himself. What’s more, his spastic moments seem more contained than any of those actors I named earlier. His overenthusiasm is just this side of stupid, and despite true temptation, he never crosses the line. He lets his limbs flail in ways that suggest pure panic…but never follows it with actually screaming in panic.
They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
There’s another detail that makes this film stand apart from its contemporaries, and it’s one of the most famous moments in the movie: “Tonight, I Know You Belong To Me”.
It’s something that’s unabashedly sweet, so much so that it almost brings a tear to the eye. All of that idiocy we’ve been watching for forty-five minutes is forgotten, and we watch two charming performers make beautiful music together. The idiocy will resume in a mere three minutes, but in this moment it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter because we’re stuck thinking about the most perfect moment we’ve always wanted with the most perfect person. We’re reminded of the people who got us mixed-up in our own words, who gave us hints we didn’t catch, and looked at us in ways nobody else did. We think about them, and how for just a second they might be able to compliment us so perfectly…and just as soon as we’ve thought about it, we see it play out on-screen.
It’s sweet, it’s romantic, it’s harmonious. It is without a single trace of irony. It pushes all of the lunacy we’ve witnessed aside for a moment and gives us something purely romantic…right before dropping us back into the lunacy.
It’s worth noting that it’s been a long time since I covered a straight-up comedy in this series. When I think about why that is, I think part of it comes down to the fact that I was raised on comedies so a lot of the classics have been covered by now. Beyond that though, I think a lot of it comes back to hearing about how a film is so funny from so many people, that it can be hard for it to live up. It’s not the film’s fault of course, nor the fault of those that love it. It’s just one of those things that builds over time and sets something up to be a letdown.
The funny thing is that nowadays that letdown can come a lot faster. A laugh riot is released on Christmas Day and everybody keeps talking it up. If you haven’t joined the party by New Year’s Day, odds are you’ll be scratching your head and wondering what the rest of the crowd is laughing at.
Happily, THE JERK didn’t fall into that chasm of bewilderment for me. Sure there was an eye-rolling moment or two, but far more often there were laughs, smiles, and feelings of genuine warmth. I watched as Martin threw his whole self into goofing off without any shred of self-awareness, and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the giddiness of it all.
In the end, watching THE JERK was like watching Ted Williams hit as a little leaguer pure joy.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for March so far…
Becca watched LA DOLCE VITA
Luke watched UGETSU
Beatrice watched THE AFRICAN QUEEN
Keisha watched CINEMA PARADISO
Courtney watched 3 IDIOTS
Josh watched SAFETY LAST
Dan watched DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID
Dell watched MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE
Jordan watched THE GRANDE ILLUSION
Katie watched TOUCH OF EVIL
Anna watched CHINATOWN
Fisti watched THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?
Jenna & Allie watched PULP FICTION
Ruth watched WINGS
Katy watched BEFORE SUNSET
John Hitchcock watched KILL BILL vol’s 1 & 2
Andina watched LOLITA
Jay watched A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
Mette watched THE GENERAL
Chris watched THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS
James watched TROIS COULEURS: BLEU
Brittani watched THE ELEPHANT MAN
Paskalis watched TAXI DRIVER
Sean Kelly watched CHARIOTS OF FIRE
Kevin watched BONNIE & CLYDE
Steven watched ALPHAVILLE
New participants! Maria & Grace watched CLEO FROM 5 TO 7