There are few films that leave me speechless- The Jerk is one of them. I honestly don’t know what to say. I can’t decide whether it is brilliant or horrible. It certainly succeeds in being a comedy like no other.
I guess you’d call The Jerk an absurdist comedy but it’s kind of making fun of the ‘down on his luck’ biographical narrative we often see in dramatic films. For example, some of the best laughs come at the beginning when Steve Martin’s Navin finds out he is adopted in his black sharecropping family. These scenes are very non-PC and the film goes for it and it made me laugh. Lines like this I thought were funny:
Taj: “You wanna, wanna come in and sing some blues?” Navin: “No thanks Taj. There’s something about those songs. They depress me.”
Navin ends up hearing ‘crazy rhythm’ on the radio and goes to St Louis to find where the song was broadcast from. He gets a job working for Jackie Mason’s Harry Hartounian and is thrilled when his name is in the phone book.
He then ends up meeting a tough carnie woman named Patty who teaches him about his “special purpose” and then meets Bernadette Peters’ Marie who is a sweet yet shallow woman. A lot of this humor involving the women was more awkward than funny but maybe that is just my more traditional values when it comes to humor.
A lot of this movie in fact was more awkward than funny. It kind of reminded me of the first Meet the Parents where I was laughing but also cringing the entire time. I can’t decide whether I like that kind of comedy or hate it.
In a way The Jerk had the feel of a silent movie but raunchier. He starts out wide eyed and gullible and ends up a world- weary hobo. Some of the jokes really work but a lot fell flat for me. I don’t know. It’s a hard one to judge. It’s one I can see myself liking the more I see it.
Anyway, I can’t really recommend The Jerk because it is so uneven but if it sounds like something you’d like than you’ll probably like it. If it doesn’t than you might hate it. It’s just a strange little movie.
Overall Grade- C