XL Popcorn: The Jerk

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 419/1007thejerkTitle: The Jerk
Director: Carl Reiner
Year: 1979
Country: USA

At the moment it feels like having stopped following the Ebert list I have been wanting to go on a bit of a comedy binge. His list did contain the Steve Martin comedy Planes, Trains  & Automobiles but for the 1001 fix of Steve Martin I look to his debut feature The Jerk.

I would struggle to think of a film that could be made nowadays with a character like Steve Martin’s Navin opening his story that he was “born a poor black child”. The fact is that his character’s white parents abandoned him on the doorstep of a black family with so much love in their heart that they took him in as their own. Still, that line sets the tone for the rest of the film which is full of Martin’s charm and clever delivery… about an idiot.

In many ways The Jerk feels like a collection of shorts revolving around the same character. True, they all follow on from each other with the same narrative thread but they could probably all be watched separately. This is in no way a criticism of the film, just an observation.

Serving as a perfect foil for Steve Martin is his then-girlfriend Bernadette Peters (who I mainly know as the voice of Rita the singing cat in Animaniacs). She is almost as dumb as he is, as evidenced by the scene in the restaurant, but is just that bit smarter to make her feel like she would be better as a voice of reason in his life. Just keep her away from the throwing knives.

The thing about The Jerk is that Navin is not at all a jerk. He’s an idiot who has, through insane luck, achieved and lost fabulous wealth. For the most part his heart is in the right place with him always remembering to send money back to his family and to always follow his special purpose.

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