Director: Peter Chelsom
Writers: Chelsom and Peter Flannery
Stars: Oliver Platt, Lee Evans, Jerry Lewis, Leslie Caron
The Story: Surreal, funny, heartbreaking magic-realist comedy-drama about a failed American comedian who absconds to the faded resort town of Blackpool, England, where his father performed when he was a child, hoping to steal material from the local comics. Instead, he uncovers his father’s secrets and discovers he has a monstrously funny half-brother.
How it Came to be Underrated: This movie seemed to announce Chelsom as a major writer/director, but his follow-up (The Mighty) was a flop and his next (Town and Country) was a notorious mega-flop, so he was done, and this movie was unfortunately forgotten.
Why It’s Great:
- And it wasn’t just Chelsom. This movie also seemed like it would turn Platt and Evans into major stars. They both give intense, heartbreaking lead performances. Platt has been too often relegated to “fat friend” roles, which was perhaps inevitable, but the utter disappearance of Evans is stranger. He’s a revelation here, like a strange combination of Sean Penn and Jim Carrey. He’s been rarely seen again, which makes this one of the great one-off performances I've seen.
- And the great roles don’t end there-- this movie gave us the best later work for both Lewis and Caron! You can see why top talent wanted to work with Chelsom after this, but he didn’t seem to have the temperament for Hollywood. Maybe he’ll manage a comeback soon and pay off the promise of this movie.
- It must seem like I spend a lot of time defending cliché on this blog, but make no mistake, I love a movie that breaks all the rules. This movie is constantly lurching off in new directions (and shifting in tone) so you never have any idea what’s going to happen next. I should have been a big mess, so it’s totally exhilarating to watch it all pay off. Ultimately, the movie centers on a dilemma we’ve truly never seen before: “A boxer kills a guy in the ring and he maybe gets another fight. A clown kills a guy in the ring? …You have to admit that that’s bad box office.” Now that's an unique problem.
- This is a funny movie, but it’s more interested in being about comedy, which is an inherently painful subject. The opening sequence, where Platt bombs in Vegas, is as excruciating as a horror film. The whole movie explores the symbiotic relationship between comedy and brutality. As Evans rhetorically asks, “You can’t pull your punches, can you?”
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Lewis first proved that he was ready to be serious with Scorsese’s King of Comedy. The existential wretchedness of English seaside resort towns was also explored in the great film noir Brighton Rock.
How Available Is It?: The DVD has no features, but it looks nice and shows off the gorgeous cinematography of Eduardo Serra.
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