You don't have to have a passion for Pagliacci to know the life of a clown has a tragic dimension. Without going to operatic extremes, The Comedian, a movie starring Robert DeNiro as a standup potty-mouthed performer, has a dark side. DeNiro developed the project with Art Linson over eight years, he said at a panel last week for The Comedians at the Plaza Athenee. Robert DeNiro's comic side, honed in movies like Last Vegas to name one, and his huge heart as in his wise, sensitive father in say, Silver Linings Playbook, come together in this movie, especially playing opposite Leslie Mann.
The Comedians panel featured director Taylor Hackford, and the superb cast including Danny DeVito and his daughter Lucy, Edie Falco, and Leslie Mann, a comedienne so wide eyed and fresh, she's a revelation. Also featuring Harvey Keitel, Patti LuPone, and a Billy Crystal cameo, the cast is first-rate. Each one steals the show, making for a lot of funny moments. DeNiro works his routines at a soup kitchen, the Jewish wedding of two brides, the Friar's Club, and a senior citizen residence in Florida. Lois Smith, who plays a resident there, was also present at the tea. And Radioman who plays one of the homeless, was present outside, as is his custom.
The jazzy soundtrack is a good part of this movie's pleasure. Taylor Hackford was part owner in a jazz club, he told the crowd, and jazz and comedy were complementary subversive entertainments. In a scene when DeNiro's Jackie irons his pants, the music is Art Blakey, and throughout, Terence Blanchard, who worked with Blakey, performs. To put it mildly, I laughed. I cried.
As to DeNiro, he answered questions pensively. It was hard to tell whether or not he was pleased to see his work finally complete. The night before, at the Marriot Marquis opening night party for A Bronx Tale on Broadway, which he co-directed, he was firm to say he did nothing: Jerry Zaks did all the work.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.