The Jerk

The Jerk (1979)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Absurd Comedy  |   Release Date - Dec 14, 1979 (USA)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Perry Seibert

Steve Martin became famous for being goofy. As the majority of '70s comedians were reveling in the newly discovered freedom to make explicit commentaries on society and politics (Richard Pryor, George Carlin), Martin became a sensation simply because he had happy feet and wore an arrow through his head. He was not a silly man, but he had an appreciation for the absurd, not unlike the members of Monty Python. Before evolving into a formidable writer (Roxanne, L.A. Story, Bowfinger, and +Picasso at the Lapin Agile) The Jerk captured Martin at the peak of his silliness. There are precursors to The Jerk (Jerry Lewis' work comes to mind) and there are films that it obviously influenced (Dumb and Dumber). While the best bits from this film could easily be used in those other films (it does not require much work to imagine Jim Carrey covering his behind and his privates with small poodles as he runs around naked), it is the essential sweetness in Martin's characterization that sets this film apart from both its forbears and its imitators. One can see the aggression that Carrey and Lewis direct toward themselves and, occasionally, their audience. Carrey beating himself up in both Liar, Liar and Me, Myself, and Irene is a good example of this tendency. Martin's performance never winks at the audience; there is no sense that Martin the actor knows this is funny material. He is confident that all the humor will stem not from his lack of mental capabilities, but because he is a saintly fool who always attempts to do the right thing. Whether saving cans or getting a proper dinner at a fancy restaurant for his true love, Navin's motives are pure. He may not have a brain, but he has a big heart. The film is a success because it's screamingly funny without degrading its characters or its audience, and it's sweet without being bathetic, sentimental, or maudlin.