I just watched this movie in its entirety on DVD
and realized the old E1 writeup did not do it justice. (Damn you, Everything 1!
) The Jerk
is actually a prodigious tour de force
for Steve Martin
, who as well as starring in the movie also co-wrote
it. And, this was directed by Carl Reiner
. You know, Carl-freakin'-Reiner
, Your Show of Shows
, The Dick Van Dyke Show
, basically a man who's single-handedly responsible for most of the trope
s of late 20th century American comedy
. And The Jerk
is part of that canon. Reiner clearly realized Martin's prodigious comic talent.
Yes, Martin plays, well, a jerk, an idiot, whatever. But you see in him the physical comedy that people like Jim Carrey and Rob Schneider are trying to do today to varying degrees of success, and most importantly, when he's not doing his schtick, he's acting. Yes, you see what he'll be capable of in his later films, if you look hard enough. And if he gets to you, you have Bernadette Peters who can act, sing, and dance to make it all come together.
The story is a simple classic--Navin R. Johnson plays someone born a poor, black child who sets off into the world on his own. His first job is in a gas station, and that doesn't go so great (in one of the funniest scenes of the movie), so he joins the carnival--forgetting that he helped a man fix his glasses by making what the man would later sell as the Opti-Grab. The man promised Navin a 50/50 split, so when the product makes money, Navin becomes rich, lives life to excess, and of course, loses it all.
There's a lot of multi-level comedy in this film--you really have to watch everything that's happening and listen to every word. On the surface it may seem stupid, but it's not. There's so much going on, that even if you don't like a specific joke, another one will be along in less than a minute. Something will make you laugh.
Finally, I am pretty sure this is the only time we've seen cat juggling on film.