(out of 5)
A once-famous comic (Robert De Niro) has to settle for the crummy gigs his devoted agent (Edie Falco) gets for him, divey bars outside the city where crowds mostly ignore his jokes and expect him to do famous catchphrases from the sitcom that made him a household name decades earlier. Things hit a low point when nasty hecklers inspire his rage and land him a stint doing community service, but things look up when he serves his time at a homeless shelter next to a beautiful younger woman (Leslie Mann) who has rage issues of her own. De Niro takes Mann to a comedy club before asking her to escort him to his niece’s wedding, facing off with his estranged brother (Danny DeVito) and vitriolic sister-in-law (Patti LuPone) before she asks him to join her at a dinner with her mobster father (Harvey Keitel in fine form). The awkward and difficult situations these characters find themselves in are richly enjoyable and beautifully scripted until an uncomfortable turn in the plot takes the drama to a flat and cold Florida and away from the atmospheric New York world of small clubs and neon lights, while the rich scenes of beautiful dialogue between the two leads give way to an unnecessarily dark and mean second half. The film feels like someone pulled the plug somewhere along the way and hijacked the original idea (the nature of the writing credits suggests I might be somewhat warm on this) and it’s a shame: the inclusion of real comedians playing themselves and doing some terrific sets make it clear that De Niro, despite a good effort, has not actually been doing this forever, but they also set his situations in a real world. What’s most astonishing, though, is that the light, bittersweet sentiments of the first part suggest a kind of redemption tale that never happens: De Niro’s character learns nothing and experiences no growth, or at least that’s what the terrible, tacked-on Dirty Grandpa-style ending seems to suggest. Performances are all reliable, with Falco the best of the bunch in her few, thankless scenes.
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Cinematography by Oliver Stapleton
Music by Terence Blanchard
Production Design by Kristi Zea
Film Editing by Mark Warner