The Jerk

Released:  1979

Cast:  Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, M. Emmet Walsh, Jackie Mason, Dick O’Neill, Mabel King

SUMMARY:  The film opens on a shot of a homeless man drinking on a street corner.  This man directly addresses the camera, introducing himself as Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin); he then begins to tell the story of how he came to be on the street corner.  Navin grew up in Mississippi in a large African-American faily.  Navin has always known he was different, but it is not until he is an adult that he learns he was adopted.  He has never been able to keep rhythm with his family’s blues music, but one evening he hears a song on the radio.  The song is called “Crazy Rhythm” (and is performed by a very white jazz orchestra), and for the first time, Navin finds himself snapping and stomping in rhythm.  He decides that this is a sign, telling him that he should leave home and seek his fortune in St. Louis (where the song was broadcast from).  He hitchhikes to get there, and while staying at a motel one night is awakened by a barking dog.  Navin thinks that the dog is alerting him to a fire in the building, and warns the other occupants.  In actuality, there is no fire, causing one man to suggest that Navin call the dog “Shithead.”  Navin keeps the dog, and takes the man’s suggestion seriously.  He eventually finds work at a gas station, and earns the respect and trust of his boss.  One day, a crazy sniper (M. Emmet Walsh) picks Navin’s name out of the phonebook as his next victim.  He sets up on the hill across from the gas station but cannot get a clear shot on Navin, as he is helping a customer.  The customer grows irate with his broken glasses, so Navin offers to fix them:  he adds a handle and a nose brake to keep the glasses from sliding down anymore.  The man, Stan Fox, is ecstatic, and wants to try to market the invention.  He offers to share the profits with Navin equally if things work out.  Meanwhile, the sniper is still waiting for Navin, who flees into a carnival to escape.  He gets a job there as a weight guesser, and has a relationship with a daredevil motorcycle rider named Patty Bernstein.  However, he one day meets a woman named Marie (Bernadette Peters) and instantly falls for her:  when Patty objects, Marie punches her out.  The two date for a few weeks, but Marie ultimately leaves because Navin does not have a secure income and way of life.

Navin heads to Los Angeles; just after arriving he learns that Stan Fox has turned his glasses invention into a multi-million dollar industry.  Fox is true to his word, and gives Navin half of the profits, which makes him a very rich man.  Now that his future is financially secure, he tracks down Marie and marries her.  They move into a huge house, and Navin gives donations and loans to nearly everybody who asks.  He continues to send money home to his family, a tradition he has maintained since first leaving home.  Things are going extremely well for Navin and Marie until the movie director Carl Reiner files a class-action suit against Navin for his glasses invention.  He claims that the glasses have made him cross-eyed, and that this condition caused the death of people on his latest movie (because he couldn’t see well enough to call “cut” before a stunt went bad).  Nearly everybody else with the glasses (some ten million people) has also become cross-eyed, and joins the suit.  The judge, who is among the cross-eyed, rules against Navin and awards the plaintiffs $10 million.  This bankrupts Navin and causes stress in his marriage:  when he and Marie get into a fight, he leaves.  This brings him to the street corner where we see him at the beginning of the film.  Just as he finishes, Marie pulls up with his family.  She tells him that she called them as soon as he left; for their part, they reveal that they have invested the money he has been sending them, and are now very wealthy themselves.  They take Navin home to Mississippi, where they all live together in their new, larger (but otherwise identical) house.

MY TAKE:  I have mixed feelings about Steve Martin:  sometimes I think he’s funny, like in the Cheaper by the Dozen movies, but I don’t like the loud, yelling, jumping-up-and-down side of his comedy.  Unfortunately, that’s primarily what this movie is.  He’s not as obnoxious as Will Ferrell, and his bumbling-idiot Navin is somewhat endearing, but mostly I found him annoying.  IN part, this is because I have a hard time believing anybody could be that naïve.  I also have a hard time believing that anybody would wear a pair of glasses with a big wire coming off the nosepiece, even if it did hold their glasses up.  Thus, it was fairly plausible to me that people would go cross-eyed from looking at it all the time.  It would be really annoying and you’d look goofy (even before you went cross-eyed).  Apparently this is a really highly-regarded comedy movie, but it didn’t do much for me.

RATING:  Mediocre.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s