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Selection for the Weekend of
Did you ever think about a career change? Think that there was another life calling you as you slave away at your cubicle? This movie is for those who hear the call, and answer it.
Sally Field stars as Lilah, a New Jersey mother of 3 who's married to an insurance salesman. All of her life, people have told Lilah that she is funny and could be one of those comedians you always see on TV, so she goes for it. Unfortunately, she is not very good.
Lilah wishes she was Steven Gold (Tom Hanks), the biggest star at the comedy club where she performs. He's bright, funny, quick on his feet and everyone loves him, except Steven. He has dropped out from medical school and lives on the emotional edge, which fuels his comedy. Steven is a cliché - the clown who makes us laugh cries on the inside.
Lilah gets some help from Steven, and starts to get better just in time for a big comedy contest where the winner will get to perform on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (hey, the movie is from 1988, Johnny was HUGE!).
Will Lilah's husband be able to deal with her new life? Will Steven get his big break? Will Lilah become the big star? Who is going to win the contest?
Most dramedies (comedy and drama mixes) often confuse the movie and show a definite strength in one direction (like this week's classic selection, Stay Hungry), but Punchline is a dramedy that works because the structure helps add to our understanding of the characters. The movie shows us that great comedy comes from great pain as we see the sad lives these funny people lead. We learn about their heartaches, their struggle to succeed and the intensity with which they pursue their craft.
This is one of Tom Hanks' best performances and the movie dramatically changed his career. To prepare for the part, Hanks threw himself into the world of stand up comedy. It was a role he felt could show off his range, so he worked at Los Angeles comedy clubs to get a true understanding of the comedian's life and sharpen his delivery. After seeing his many light hearted comedies, some doubted Hanks' ability to pull of such a dramatic, dark role, but he worked hard and proved us all wrong.
The movie helped Hanks' career in another way as well. While on the set, he became friendly with Sally Field, who pushed him to be careful in choosing his future roles. This doesn't explain Joe Versus the Volcano or Bonfire of the Vanities, but future movies Big, Philadelphia and Forrest Gump ended up being good choices.
Of course, Punchline was a great choice for Sally Field. She had played romantic leads for most of her career up until this film, but Punchline marked a new beginning in her career as she started to take roles where she played mothers and elder statesmen. It was a welcome change and revived her career. She went from forgettable movies like Surrender to high profile vehicles like Steel Magnolias, Mrs. Doubtfire and Forrest Gump.
Let's celebrate Sally Fields' move to TV (did you see her on E/R last night?) by renting Punchline tonight.
Grade: A- (It gets a little weird in the middle by muddling the plotline to insert a strange romantic entanglement for two of the characters.)
Directed and written by David Seltzer
Sally Field .. . Lilah Krytsick
Tom Hanks .. Steven Gold
John Goodman John Krytsick
Mark Rydell .. .. Romeo
Kim Greist .. . Madeline Urie
Paul Mazursky . Arnold
Pam Matteson . Utica Blake
George Michael McGrath .... Singing Nun
Taylor Negron .. Albert Emperato
Barry Neikrug ... Krug
Damon Wayans Percy
Max Alexander . Mr. Ball
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