Punchline


Dir: David Seltzer
Star: Sally Field, Tom Hanks, John Goodman, Mark Rydell

It's kinda odd to see Tom Hanks as an acerbic asshole, given how he's now the comfy cardigan of Hollywood movies. Yet that's what he is here, as Steve Gold, a stand-up comic with talent, and no people skills. It's the kind of role you could imagine Bill Murray doing, and as such, makes for strange viewing - not that Hanks is bad, it's just like seeing a favourite cousin in a really grumpy mood. Field plays housewife Lilah, who doesn't so much want to escape her everyday life as extend it to include stand-up, a concept incomprehensible to her husband (Goodman). She is eager to learn from Steve, who is initially cold, but eventually falls in love with her.

This kind of sharp character arc happens to everyone in the movie. Lilah at one point walks out on her family, to pursue her comedy dreams, and her husband is utterly unsupportive - by the end, however, all is well, in a warm, fuzzy way that is no real surprise (though we note Lilah somehow can afford to take taxis everywhere!). The acting, fortunately, resonates more than the script - you can't help feel Lilah's pain, when the jokes that cost her $500 turn out to be duds. Less convincing is the Lilah/Steve relationship; he simply seems desperate for any kind of affection; admittedly, this may be the point. The film is at its best depicting the brutal nature of life as a stand-up (look for Damon Wayans as a failing comic), especially at the bottom of the pile. If Seltzer had concentrated on this angle, it would likely have been more successful.

C


Laugh? I almost did.
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