Robert De Niro stars as Jackie Burke in this week’s new (limited for now) release The Comedian. Burke is an aging comic, well-known for an old TV show and now on the standup circuit. He’s deeply unhappy about his position, though, and that comes out one night in a mean-spirited set that culminates with him punching a member of the audience.
Burke is sentenced to community service, which is where he crosses paths with Harmony (Leslie Mann). The two form a friendship that includes Burke taking her to the wedding of his niece and her introducing him to her father, a shady Florida real estate character. That friendship deepens as the two of them find someone else who can help them get over their own issues.
The singular one sheet for the movie is just weird. “Nobody’s a bargain” is displayed at the top and below that is an image where the top half of De Niro dissolves into a tangle of wires that’s attached to a microphone. We’re meant to connect that picture to the title treatment and say “Oh, I get it a microphone because he’s a comedian” but the whole thing just comes off as kind of a mess that doesn’t sell anything cohesive or coherent to an audience that might not have the whole background of the story.
We meet Jackie as the first trailer opens with a scene that shows how self-centered and clueless he is before he takes a job he doesn’t want and sabotages his own career. While doing his mandated community service he meets Harmony and the two become friends. Through a series of events he gets back into the comedy groove of things and more opportunities present themselves. Jackie and Harmony spend more and more time together, which her father isn’t thrilled with. But it’s more about his journey than anything else.
It’s not bad. The fact that De Niro and Mann are love interests is creepy and all but that aside the movie looks relatively funny. Sure, the cameos by Keitel and Crystal seem forced in a bit to help us recall previous movies, but that’s part of the marketing game, I suppose.
Online and Social
When you load the movie’s official website the trailer opens up on a pop-up, though one that’s not YouTube and is very choppy in terms of playback. Close that and you get the key art along with the photos of the main cast. At the top there are prompts to watch the trailer again, buy tickets and visit the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
The first section of content is the “Synopsis,” which gives you the same kind of overview of the story you can get from watching the trailer. After that are “Cast” and “Filmmaker” sections that actually have a good amount of information, with filmographies and other information on the major players.
There are almost two dozen images in the “Gallery,” mostly production stills but also with a couple behind the scenes shots of director Taylor Hackford. “Links” will send you to the IMDb pages for the primary cast and finally “Reviews” has a few positive pull quotes from early reviews of the movie.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing that I’m aware of on the paid front. There may have been a few online ads run or there might be as the movie (potentially) expands to more theaters, but there’s been nothing on TV that I’ve been able to find.
Media and Publicity
A first look at the movie along with comments from De Niro and others popped up around the time it was announced there would be a debut screening of the film at AFI Fest before a limited, awards-qualifying release.
Well before release – back in November – De Niro made a few appearances on the late night talk shows to talk about taking on the role and otherwise promote the movie before it went into limited release.
A nice feature interview with Mann covered why she took on the role, how she reacted to working with De Niro and her other costars and her approach to her career in general. De Niro also talked about taking on the role of a stand-up comic in this feature that covered how much hard work the cast and crew put into getting the voice and tone of that world right, including details of abandoned drafts, working with the crowd and more. Mann and De Niro also made some late night appearances to talk about the movie.
It’s…OK. There are some aspects of the campaign that make this seem really attractive – specifically the interplay between De Niro, Danny Devito and Patti LuPone – and some that are very much the opposite, mostly the fact that De Niro and Mann are positioned as romantic interests. That just seems off and it detracts from the overall idea of an old cranky comedian coming to terms with his place in the world because that kind of relationship is usually about being in denial as to where you actually are in life. And I’m surprised that’s the emphasis of the campaign, with Burke’s actual character arc given short shrift.
The marketing wants to have it both ways, selling this as both a comedy and a drama. There are funny moments that show what Burke’s relationships are like and there are serious moments along those same lines. But it never really comes together into something that looks generally attractive. It’s an interesting point in De Niro’s filmography but that’s about it.