|Steven Martin as The Jerk|
"I was born a poor black man".
Steve Martin plays Navin, a white man that lives with a black family. A poor family. He has no rhythm, has no job and doesn't really know where he's going in life. Upon hearing the song "Crazy Rythm", Martin's character finds direction (and rhythm) in his life. He wants to go to the big city (St. Louis) to the radio station that played the song.
From the moment that this movie opens up, it is funny. The fact that Martin's character was adopted by sharecroppers, who live in a shack (think Beverly Hillbillies style shack), he's accepted into the family regardless of being white and is completely uneducated and naive, makes this film a classic. Taken from some of Martin's stand-up comedy, directed by comedy great Carl Reiner, this is a movie that shouldn't be missed.
As soon as Navin (Martin) decides he has to leave, the very first thing he does is to hitchhike to St. Louis. He has no mode of transportation other than his legs, so he's going to make the best of it. He doesn't go to the highway, in fact, he is not very far from his house when he sticks his thumb out for a ride. Luckily a truck stops to pick him up and Martin asks where the man is going. The reply? "To the end of the fence." The second part of that joke is that the person picking him up is his neighbor and Martin acts as if he's a stranger. It's one of the funniest written moments on screen because it's so innocent and delivered with conviction. Martin, not taking no for an answer, settles in and enjoys the ride.
Martin's character isn't just uneducated, he is really stupid. He learns nothing whatsoever, there is very little character growth for Navin. This also makes the movie great. Sometimes we just need a character that doesn't change, no matter the circumstances, it makes for a better movie. Martin's character goes through the motions and we like him because he's relatable. But he's a moron. Everything he does is him just stumbling into one situation after another. From getting his first job to meeting his first girlfriend, Martin is really good at letting his character continue along the same path that he started off in, naive, uneducated and silly. It's not over the top, it's not stupid dick and fart humor.
As we follow Navin's story, we watch as he finally gets to St. Louis, get's his first job at a gas station gets his first "apartment" (at the same said gas station) and almost gets murdered by a random shooter played by M. Emmet Walsh. Martin flees his job at the station to avoid being murdered and winds up at a travelling carnival where he gets his first girlfriend, finally has sex and falls in love with Bernadette Peter's character "Marie". We're even treated to Martin and Peters doing a duette "Tonight You Belong To Me". Corny as it is, it's a touching moment in a movie full of comic pratfalls, oddity, and weirdness.
Martin based some of this movie off of his stand-up comedy. It's not really an original thought, a lot of studios buy into the idea that if a stand-up comic is really successful, they'll let the comedian work out a movie (or tv series) that's based on those same ideas. It worked for Seinfeld and a few others, but Martin's "The Jerk" stands out in that his character Navin is a do nothing, go nowhere in life type of character who has no really redeeming values other than his child-like innocence.
This movie wouldn't have been any good if someone like Carl Reiner wasn't the director. Someone that understands stand up comics understands the idea of being able to take a routine and put it together into a cohesive story line and make it funny and relatable. Reiner has been able to do that for years, he worked for the greats in television and film before getting a chance to direct and cut his teeth writing comedy with Mel Brooks. To say that he is capable of pulling off a movie like this is a complete understatement.
This movie works because it doesn't try to be a parody or "stupid funny" like you find in other movies that have come out since then (Scary Movie or any of those types), because everyone in the movie believes in their character and they aren't reading some throw away lines and then doing a double take while looking at the screen to break the fourth wall. These types of movies are what's missing from today's film releases and that's a shame.
The movie is predictable, but how they get from the beginning to the end is great stuff. Navin's journey from poor to rich is him just stumbling through life and being in the moment. It's like an early version of Spongebob Squarepants. Happy and oblivious to the "real" world until he loses his fortune and has to face the reality of being poor and homeless, even though that is how he started off.
Take the time to watch this movie. There are a lot of cameo's in it and some great comedic moments. I cannot recommend this movie enough.
The Jerk (1979)
R | 1h 34min | Comedy | 14 December 1979 (USA)
An idiotic man struggles to make it through life on his own in St. Louis.
Director: Carl Reiner
Writers: Steve Martin (screenplay), Carl Gottlieb (screenplay)
Stars: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Catlin Adams