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Thursday, 12 October 2017

Retro Review: Punchline (1988)

Cast: Sally Field, Tom Hanks, John Goodman, Mark Rydell, Damon Wayans
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office: over $21 million

Plot: A housewife and mother suddenly develops the urge to be a comedienne. Her comic instincts are on target, but her delivery and timing stinks. Steven, a stand-up comic with a few years' experience under his belt, offers to teach Lilah the ropes

'A Punchbag For Lack Of Genuine Laughs That Survives Only Through Hanks & Field' 

A mostly disappointing drama on the life as a stand-up comedian and the efforts they go for a laugh and to get a standing ovation, Punchline is only just about worth seeing for Tom Hanks and Sally Field alone. And yet with actual actors who are comedians like Robin Williams or Jim Carrey and/or even Roseanne Barr or Ellen Degeneres playing the lead roles, who have the natural ability to make people laugh and where their jokes and riffs are off-script, this would have made far more sense, as well as it makes it far more watchable.

Steven is a hard-working comic, whose passion for stand up comedy is at odds with his father who wants him to go to medical school and when Steven fails medical school, he is kicked out of school. He turns to comedy and becomes a major overnight hit. Lilah is another comic who is also a housewife, who resorts to buying her own jokes, but through her encounter with Steven, she follows her passion with all her might. Punchline examines the contrasting lives of two people who are trying to make a success out of what they do.

The first time I tried to get into this film, I switched it off after 10 mins as I mistakenly went into Punchline thinking this would be a comedy, when in fact this is a drama about comedy. Some of the skits with the comedians telling jokes, I felt was not very funny and humourous when they try to be. The only performer who is an actual comedian is Damon Wayans. The casting by Jackie Burch is not very inspired with the screenplay penned by David Seltzer, who wrote the unimpressive Bird on the Wire & My Giant, which stars Billy Crystal and so-called comedy films that I didn't find particularly amusing.

Both Sally Field and Tom Hanks, who are terrific actors, would later team up for the far superior, Forrest Gump in 1994 as mother and son; although in Punchline, they make for a good duo. I liked the individual scenes with Sally as Lilah and I found her character arc to be the most intriguing by far. She is someone who sees comedy as a way out of her mundane existence, with a husband who at first is not very supportive of what Lilah does, and who is destined for bigger and better things. Lilah is enthusiastic yet misguided who becomes a shoulder for Steven to lean onto. Two of my favourite scenes of hers is when Lilah and her daughters set up the dinner table and when one of the daughters go ''what did one c***sucker say to the other?'' in front of the priest. Tom as Steven is impressive as the selfish, arrogant comedic hotshot and it makes me wish he had landed more comedy-based films in his career. His performance does make me wish that Hanks had a more diverse filmography with comedy and drama films and roles. The scene where Steven breaks down into tears as he tells the jokes is more tragic and painful than laugh out loud amusing, whilst the romantic angle of Steven and Lilah's relationship doesn't work at all. Thankfully, it fizzles out and in a nice way also.

If one is going to write and produce a film about stand-up comedy, it should make a convincing attempt, or make that attempts to make you laugh. This film just doesn't do that within those 2 hours. It tries to tell a story about being a comedian with a set of characters, but Seltzer goes about it in a way that is not very engaging or entertaining. Humour-wise, it disappoints; drama-wise, through some of Sally Field's and Tom Hanks's storylines, it's overly decent and the film picks up halfway through it and as it went on, it did get more interesting, thanks to Field and Hanks. But even with that, it doesn't compensate for a lacklustre first half & poor skits.

Luckily enough, however, Sally Field and Tom Hanks's watchability and charm makes this film far less of a chore to sit through.

Final Verdict:

An uneven offering with the inconsistent mix of comedy and drama, which is scattered all over the place, the scenes with Sally Field & Field and Tom Hanks together especially are worth and are only worth the admission fee alone for Punchline, as everything else doesn't fall and click into place. Overlong with weak comedy skits that fail to elicit genuine laughs and drama that is not very compelling or intriguing enough to be overly satisfying, but is also not quite the disaster critics have labelled this as and one I had serious reservations towards.

Sally Field was terrific, whereas Tom Hanks, whilst he has gone on to do better, gives a great account of himself also. And still, despite their efforts, Punchline is a drama about the world of comedy that, like I said, with actual comedic actors, it would have made it even more whimsical and more memorable. 


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