Lenny (1974)

BOB FOSSE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.5

USA, 1974.  .  Screenplay by , based on his play.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by Joel Schiller.  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1974.  Cannes Film Festival 1975.  Golden Globe Awards 1974.  

Bob Fosse’s third film and first non-musical is a fascinating, unflinching look at the life and career of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce.  Dustin Hoffman is effective in the lead, a foul-mouthed orator whose frank discussions of social issues, peppered with colourful four-letter words, gets him in constant trouble with the law.  Bruce broke down barriers for future generations and redefined stand-up comedy as we know it, which is given ample tribute in the film, though there was also a gritty, reckless quality to the comedian that Hoffman can’t nail (he has his shit together in a way that Bruce didn’t, and which he used as part of his appeal).  Valerie Perrine is even more compelling as Bruce’s wife, a former stripper whose relationship with him forms the film’s emotional content. Filmed with documentary-like precision in black-and-white, the film is startling for how impressively entertaining it is and for how real it all feels.

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