The Jerk

Year: 1979
Production Co: Aspen Film Society
Director: Carl Reiner
Writer: Steve Martin/Carl Gottlieb
Cast: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters
You could study The Jerk from an almost anthropological perspective. It's the same as Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison ; a new Saturday Night Live performer breaking into Hollywood with his own brand of idiot-chic while Adam Sandler was still in nappies, if he was born at all...

The torch was handed over in 1994's Mixed Nuts, one of the early Steve Martin comedies where he plays the straight man surrounded by the sort of buffoons he used to play. One of those buffoons is none other than a young Sandler doing a stupid voice.

Martin went on to far more serious fare as his experience and clout grew, dividing his time now between ineffectual family comedies like Cheaper By the Dozen and white comedies like Bringing Down the House.

Shopgirl was a surprise breakout from his canon, the same way the last 25 minutes of Click was for Sandler when his own stock rose; here was an actor with an eye on dramatic kudos, a nose for dialogue and premise that will twang the simple heartstrings of Middle America and last but not least, a producer or writer credit.

Without any such clout or reputation however, Martin's early characters were all variations on his most successful SNL characters. Here he plays an utterly stupid white boy bought up in the south by a black family as one of their own who decides to hit the road to find his fame and fortune.

A lot of people consider it a classic, but the style of comedy is somewhat dated now and the story itself meanders through a wishy-washy vignette of set pieces that do little except to showcase Martin's talent.

All gags and no laughs, and how Jaws co-scribe Gottlieb landed this gig is anyone's guess...

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