Directed by: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone, Edie Falco and Harvey Keitel
Run Time: 1h 59min
By: Shari K. Green
2 1/2 Frames out of 5
The idea of an aging comedian going on a nostalgia tour is painful for the comedian; throwing in a May-December relationship between the two stars is painful for the audience. Robert DeNiro plays Jackie Burke, a former television sitcom star whose show “Eddie’s Home” was a huge success. His star burned so brightly that everyone he passes knows him by the character name they shout back to him his famous catchphrase… which gets on your nerves about halfway through the film. Though still beloved, Jackie is miserable facing the fact that he’s no longer a draw and his agent, Miller (Falco), is doing her best to get him work. She gets him a stand-up gig at a club an while doing his routine a member of the audience starts recording as he also heckles him to illicit a response. As the heckler intended, he angers Jackie to fisticuffs, or hitting with microphone in this case, and Jackie gets into trouble. He’s arrested and ends up with community service where he meets Harmony (Mann) a woman with daddy and anger issues of her own. You won’t feel the connection but they seem to like one another and agree to be one another’s wing-man at two upcoming family functions. Harmony has to meet her father, Mac (Keitel), whom she’s estranged, for his birthday. She more or less takes Jackie, one of Mac’s favorites, for her dads gift… which doesn’t go over so well as instantly the alpha males spar. Jackie’s brother, played by DeVito, has a daughter getting married and would like for Jackie to attend the wedding with him. They are disrespectful by showing up late which isn’t missed by the family… and things get worse from there.
After they’ve carry out the duties the friendship is based on and as Jackie’s video hits skyrockets, he develops an interest in Harmony. He seems somewhat happy that he might be on the rise again, as well as his ego which is, throughout the film, both inflated and torn down. Out of nowhere and just when all seems well and after one special night, Harmony is checking out. What keeps you from doing the same is the tone the score sets, Hackford’s style, his casting choices (though oddly placed) and most of the comedians who pop in and out. However, there are clear and present issues with the script. Several screenwriters had a hand in writing this which is always a bad sign. You can see several times in the storyline where they start one direction and completely go in another which doesn’t help build a strong cohesive arc. The story was written by Art Linson, known more for his producing of films such as Fast Times as Ridgemont High, This Boy’s Life, Heat, Fight Club and The Runaways. He was joined by a writing team of considerable talent. They are Jeffrey Ross, Lewis Friedman (whose works are mostly on television) and Richard LaGravenese who wrote many celebrated films including The Fisher King, The Ref, The Mirror Has Two Faces and The Bridges of Madison County so what could go wrong?
To be honest, I liked it overall, Mann’s performance especially. She has already proven she knows funny but her unbalanced and unhinged Harmony is an interesting character study. Another thing I appreciated was the honesty of it and how it captured raw human emotion. People hate. People love. People stay. People leave. They aren’t successful, are successful and they’re jealous when others are, too. Taylor Hackford did a brilliant job of showing us this. Jackie performs a nasty routine at a retirement community and I saw it as being a truthful and humorous look at what they’re facing. Making fun of people for everything that goes on in their life isn’t just enjoyed by the young. It’s okay to give elderly people the laughs they want and most likely need, rather than treat and talk to them like they’re fragile children. With all of that said, I didn’t love it. The writers came up with some good material to watch but the story doesn’t have the structure it needs to work as one great piece. It changes its mind too often so, is it worth watching at the theatre? If you like the setting, jazz, the players and all the comics who are playing in this film, giving them your support wouldn’t hurt but this is better to save for the smaller screen where the bad moments don’t seem quite so large.