Starring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Catlin Adams
Director: Carl Reiner
Running Time: 95 mins
The Jerk is an American film about a simple-minded man who moves from a humble upbringing in the country to the big city, where he has a rollerocaster on account of his naïve approach to the wider world.
The film that served as the breakout big screen role for the comedy king we now know as Steve Martin, The Jerk is full of the actor’s energetic sensibilities, although the film struggles to keep itself together over the course of a fairly messy hour and a half.
Let’s start on the bright side, though. While I wouldn’t call The Jerk laugh-out-loud hilarious, it’s a light-hearted and fun-loving movie with a good few giggles, as well as some more engaging elements of overarching dark comedy.
Bolstered by an enjoyably chaotic lead turn from Steve Martin and a likable outing from costar Bernadette Peters, The Jerk has a decent comedic energy to it, and that’s what makes it a fun watch, particularly when it’s at its silliest.
However, therein lies the biggest issue with The Jerk, the fact that it never really manages to make its story, and in that vein its more serious side, work well.
As fun as the movie is, there’s more to the story than slapstick gags and silly humour. The plot, particularly in the second half, serves as a cautionary tale of the reality of a rags-to-riches story, where money, influence and power can get to someone’s head to the point that it causes their own downfall.
There’s a lot of depth and truth to that story, but the problem is that The Jerk regularly finds itself caught in an awkward middle ground between a much lighter comedy and something with a little more edge. The sillier humour is certainly funnier – especially in the first half – and that makes it difficult to really engage with the film when it tries to inject a little more harsh pessimism into the mix.
That’s not to say this movie should have been a bunch of silly antics and nothing more, but it just isn’t able to make its more edgy and serious ideas work effectively, undoing the chaotic charm of the early stages and making things a whole lot messier. So, that’s why I’m giving The Jerk a 7.0 overall.