We Love… April Fools: Navin R Johnson in 'The Jerk'

We love... April Fools

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

It was Clubber Lang who first uttered the immortal words ‘I pity the fool’ when asked if he hated Rocky Balboa by an intrepid journalist seeking to hype up thier impending meeting in the ring. In honour of April we here at Film Ireland challenge Clubber Lang and propose to ‘praise the fool’.

We’ll be adding to the list throughout April – check it out here. As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact steven@filmbase.ie

Now bring on the jesters…


Navin R Johnson in The Jerk

Derek Mc Donnell

The Great Bard once wrote, ‘The fool doth thinks he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.’ This could have been written with the character of Navin R Johnson specifically in mind, the protagonist of The Jerk. He exists on a level of stupidity that make the Three Stooges look like Proustian scholars in comparison, a sweet, innocent naïf totally lacking in self awareness and street smarts who succeeds despite himself.

The Jerk made Steve Martin a comedy superstar back in 1979 in his first leading role after building up a loyal over the previous decade through his stand-up routine, which he honed an perfected to an almost scientific degree and which is detailed fascinatingly in his excellent memoir Born Standing Up. Martin’s ‘Wild and crazy guy’ shtick was a hilariously potent brand of seemingly incongruous elements mixing corny showbiz sentimentalism with a sophisticated, self-aware absurdism all delivered by a prematurely grey-haired white guy in a white suit. What seemed on the surface to be a bland all around entertainer was anything but. This was joyful comic subversiveness, a deconstruction of the old fashioned ‘entertainer’ and the smug, shallow world of show complete with balloon animals, musical parodies, slapstick and prop gags delivered in a deliberately stylized, over confident manner.

By 1978, Martin was the number one comedy star in America, filling thirty-thousand to fourty-thousand-seater stadiums, having best selling comedy albums with his visibility raised by regular television appearances on the then hip show Saturday Night Live. Realizing that his days of performing in small clubs had come to an end and that his act had run it’s course, Martin retired from stand-up and crossed over into feature films with The Jerk being the first result of this new career direction.

Co-written with Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, Martin plays the title role, a dunderheaded yet sweet naive country boy who for no reason is adopted and raised by a poor African American family believing himself to be black. The film is basically just an excuse for a string of ridiculous set pieces and gags strung around Navin’s rags to riches then back to rags journey, Reiner adopts a throw everything against the wall and see what sticks approach to the films stream of visual and verbal gags, an approach that fortunately yields more hits than misses.

However, the key to the movies status as a comedy classic is of course, Steve Martin’s go-for-broke performance as the oblivious title character, a fool of galactic proportions who greets every triumph and obstacle with misguided enthusiasm, childlike optimism and a mile-wide gormless grin.

When he decides to leave home for the first time, he attempts to hitchhike from his family home. The first truck that stops offers to drive him to the end of the fence which Navin greets with no end of gratitude to the truck drivers disbelief. He is overjoyed when he discovers his name published in the phone book for the first time and his mind is blown when his exploitative gas station boss Jackie Mason offers him a place to stay, a utility room situated beside a urinal. And this is the basic tone of the movie the whole way through, a childlike simpleton in awe of the big wide world who can never believe his luck.

Along Navin’s colourful journey, he picks up a pet dog named ‘Shithead’, gets a job at a travelling carnival as a ‘Weight Guesser’, discovers his Special Purpose (euphemism for his male equipment), is stalked by a psychotic sniper played by the venerable M Emmet Walsh, falls in love with cutie pie Bernadette Peters and unwittingly creates a revolutionary glasses wearing device called The Opti-Grab which makes him so rich he can afford a water cooler containing the finest wines served in golden, diamond encrusted cups.

Probably not hard to guess that the plot and the jokes are pretty freewheeling and it would seem that both Reiner and Martin were just out to make each other laugh as much as possible. There is a story arc, a rise and fall success story but that’s not important. What is important, no absolutely vital here are the laughs which are plentiful and generous throughout. Even after having viewed it again recently for the umpteenth time, it still leaves me in stitches- ‘I’m gonna get back our money and then I’m gonna buy you a diamond so big that it will make you wanna PUKE!’

The Jerk is the king of dumb comedy in extremis smartly executed by master practitioners of the form.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANph32LoXR4[/youtube]

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We Love… April Fools: Frank Drebin in 'Police Squad' & 'The Naked Gun'

We Love... April Fools

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

It was Clubber Lang who first uttered the immortal words ‘I pity the fool’ when asked if he hated Rocky Balboa by an intrepid journalist seeking to hype up thier impending meeting in the ring. In honour of April we here at Film Ireland challenge Clubber Lang and propose to ‘praise the fool’.

We’ll be adding to the list throughout April – check it out here. As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact steven@filmbase.ie

Now bring on the jesters…


Frank Drebin in Police Squad & The Naked Gun

Jack McGlynn

Who has the best face? Now there’s a question. You’re probably tempted to gush the name of some particularly beautiful person: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Olivia Wilde. Even the more mature among us might suggest Sean Connery or Marilyn Monroe.

But really think about it; the best face…

No-one ever picks Leslie Nielsen. But you should because the truth is, the truth mind you, is he had the ideal face. Think back, scour you memories. Has ever a set of expressive, rubbery, yet profoundly human features brought such joy and mirth to your soul as the late Mr Nielsen’s?

Shirley not.

A serious, dramatic actor for the guts of his career, it wasn’t really until 1980’s , Airplane that the world was graced with Nielsen’s trademark tomfoolery. Revealed to be less of a man, more perhaps an otherworldly force of unrivalled deadpan hilarity, he confounded circumstantial absurdity with a straight-faced sincerity which quickly saw him become a household name. Arguably the man was the very face of humour.

And despite some questionable film choices in his later life, Nielson tackled everything, no matter how minor the role, how poor the film, with a certain vigour and willingness. No matter the rough, Nielsen was ever the diamond. But 26 years of nostalgia and bias aside, two simple words should be enough to cement this man in our minds as the very epitome of comedy. The first word is Frank.

The second is Drebin.

Both Police Squad and the Naked Gun trilogy are timeless experiences, replete with visual gags, clever wordplay, unlikely scenarios, recurring jokes and interlinking antics. Be assured if Nielsen doesn’t slay you with one gag, never fear, there’ll be another along in about 6 seconds to finish the job. I’ll freely admit The Naked Gun 2&½ is my favourite film, bar none. And I prefer my films filled with explosions and fistfights rather than joy and laughter. Nielsen’s that affecting.

It’s said (by people who know such things, presumably) that if you want the measure of an actor, get him to play comedy, force him to make a fool of himself. By this criterion, the late Leslie Nielsen was easily among the finest of performers. And despite the comedy, the laughter and the wit, it would never be so funny without the empathy for his character: The humanity in his face.

Leslie Nielson wore the best face.

It made me laugh.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJEmtLxkEoI&feature=related[/youtube]

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We Love… April Fools: Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber

WE LOVE… APRIL FOOLS

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

It was Clubber Lang who first uttered the immortal words ‘I pity the fool’ when asked if he hated Rocky Balboa by an intrepid journalist seeking to hype up thier impending meeting in the ring. In honour of April we here at Film Ireland challenge Clubber Lang and propose to ‘praise the fool’.

We’ll be adding to the list throughout April – check it out here. As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact steven@filmbase.ie

Now bring on the jesters…


Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber

Charlene Lydon

I couldn’t ask for better fools to write about. First of all, there are two of them, so double the fun! And second of all, there are few more likeable fools in all of cinema than Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne!

This is a stupid film. It is low-brow, it is crass, it is formulaic and it is completely juvenile. From the opening credits use of Boom Shakalaka over misspelled credits, we know we’re in for a silly, irreverent and unapologetic caper. So what is it about the Farrelly Brothers’ debut that made it an instant classic that is still one of the only films to make a giggling mess of me on every single viewing (and there have been many viewings)?

The plot is simple. Lloyd, a limo driver falls in love with Mary when he drives her to the airport. When she leaves her briefcase behind her, Lloyd and his best friend Harry decide to drive all the way across the country to return it to her. What they don’t know is that they’ve just foiled a ransom drop and the kidnappers will stop at nothing to get their briefcase back. It’s as classic a set-up as there is, no complicated plot to detract from the rapid-fire attack of insanely funny jokes.

One of the main reasons the film works so well is the fact that the world Harry and Lloyd inhabit is both depressingly gritty and strangely realistic. Perhaps it is because the Farrelly brothers filmed it around their locality of Providence, Rhode Island using local actors and non-actors in the minor roles. Lloyd and Harry’s existence when we first meet them is unpleasant but it feels real. They are surrounded by no-nonsense, blue-collar people, living a normal life. Drop these two over-the-top comic characters into that world and there is an instant sense of the surreal that adds humour to every incident.

They live in a run down part of town and seemingly own nothing except a worm farm and a ragged poster of Bo Derek. Lloyd earns some extra cash for their trip by selling Harry’s dead, headless budgie to a blind kid. ‘But Lloyd, Petie didn’t have a head’ Lloyd looks indignant and replies ‘Harry! I took care of it.’ Cut to: Blind kid fawning over bird with head attached with a mound of sellotape. Later, when the boys have completed their journey and befriended Mary, we see her watching a feature on TV about evil men who sold a dead bird to a blind kid. ‘Who are these sick people?’ she asks aloud. They’re not sick, they’re just in the same moral league as mischievous children.

So, who is dumb and who is dumber? Debate as you will, there is no easy answer. The other reason this film works so well is that you don’t just have two simple idiots to deal with. Lloyd sees himself as the ‘ideas man’, the one who can handle himself in a crisis and speaks with authority when necessary, but by golly, is he hare-brained! Despite doing countless stupid things throughout the movie, Lloyd is arrogant enough to believe he is the brains of the operation. On the other hand, crazy-haired Harry is certainly the more outwardly goofy of the two with his manic appearance and childish, hearty laugh but he is, at times, the more sensible and sensitive of the two.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRE7gINaS5o[/youtube]

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