It’s fitting that the first film I watch after switching lists is one that did not feature on Ebert’s list of Greatest Movies. In fact, upon reading his review, it appears to be a film that he was not exactly too impressed with. The thing is… watching The King of Comedy has confirmed to me that I have made the right decision to go back since I loved it.
This is the 11th film I have watched that Scorsese has directed and, without hesitation, this is my favourite of the bunch (Goodfellas and Hugo would place below this). In its tackling the concepts of stalking and hero worship The King Of Comedy was rather ahead of its time. This would also go a long way to explain why it, essentially, bombed upon its release and why it has been so greatly re-evaluated.
Absolutely dominating the screen is Scorsese-favourite Robert De Niro in (arguably) one of his best roles as Rupert Pupkin, an obsessive and slightly unhinged (if not sociopathic) wannabe stand-up comedian. He dreams of hitting the big time but rather than take the advice to work his way up he chooses a different route: befriend syndicated talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and try to get a spot on his show.
Obviously this does not work. He’s far too busy and, understandably, creeped out by this man who is a constant fixture as he runs to his car. What is also not helping is Pupkin’s link to Masha (Sandra Bernhard), a fairly well-off woman who is delusional about her relationship (or lack thereof) with Langford. The fact that they plot the kidnapping of the object of their obsession is a pretty logical progression.
There is a lot more to the film than a simple stalkers tale. It plays with Pupkin’s concept of reality to the point where it’s quite hard to except the ending on face value since we have seen him engaging in whole conversations by himself. Still, if the ending is to be taken as red… then it’s probably one that would be more true to life now than it would have been 30 years ago.
To summarise: The King of Comedy is a cringy black comedy at it’s finest with exemplary turns by De Niro, Lewis and Bernhard. You may find yourself talking at the characters as you see them make awful choices but, to be honest, that was the huge fun of it.