Synopsis: Comedy is no laughing matter for OscarÂ® winners Sally Field and Tom Hanks, who take center stage in the smash hit Punchline. Field (Forrest Gump, Mrs. Doubtfire) stars as Lilah Krytsick, a New Jersey housewife and mother of three who desperately wants to make it big as a comedienne. All her life people have been telling her she’s funny and now her home life has been catapulted into chaos as she spends her night onstage at the New York comedy club the Gas Station. Hanks (Cast Away, Saving Private Ryan) plays Steven Gold, a self-centered Lenny Bruce type who’s been stealing the spotlight at the Station with his irrepressible, natural comedic talent. Drawn to one another, Steven helps the stumbling Lilah turn her routine from flat to funny, while Lilah helps Steven keep his anguished life together. With critically-acclaimed performances by Hanks and Field, Punchline is a fascinating drama about the often harrowing world of comedy.
eyelights: the cast.
eyesores: the material.
“Oh okay, so I’m not funny. SHOOT ME!”
‘Punchline’ is a motion picture starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field, telling the story of a couple of stand-up comedians as they try to make it in the business. Released in 1988, it followed hot on the heels of Tom Hank’s massive success with ‘Big‘. It wasn’t anything close to being the success of the latter; it barely made its money back.
Part of the problem may have been its uneven tone. For starters, it’s a drama. Seriously. A drama about comedy. So the humour only comes when they’re on stage – and, quite frankly, it’s not very funny. Honestly, I laughed 2-3 times and chuckled a handful of other times – despite the fact that their club features other real stand-up comedians.
Perhaps the brand of humour is dated, but I simply didn’t find any of it funny.
Then there’s the matter of the characters not being especially likeable. Hanks’ character, Steven Gold, is a bit of a jerk and he has serious emotional problems. Meanwhile, Field’s Lilah Krytsick is becoming negligent of her family in her quest for comedy gold. Her quest is fine, but it’s how irresponsible she becomes that’s problematic.
So I didn’t give a crap about either of them, no matter how fascinated they were with each other. In her estimation (and everyone else’s), Steve is hilarious, but I just didn’t see it. Not one bit. Similarly, Steve sees in Lilah a star, but we have no idea exactly what he’s seeing, as it’s not on screen and he doesn’t explain it to her or us.
The problem isn’t even the cast, which is actually quite good – especially Hanks and Fields, who acquit themselves of their parts exceptionally well. Hanks shows that he can do drama, whereas Fields is credible as a stand-up comedian, even if I would say that she’s not the star Steve sees in her, but a decent amateur – nothing more.
Honestly, between the lack of laughs and the characters, I found the film a bit tedious in spots, to the point that I actually took a short break near the halfway mark, when Steve has a meltdown and blubbers like an idiot. By then I had had enough. I soon returned, but the picture never got any funnier, more exciting or more original.
I don’t know what any of the participants saw in ‘Punchline’, but I certainly didn’t get it; rarely have I been so bored watching stand-up comedians. Having said this, if you want to watch an okay melodrama, you could do worse than this. Just don’t expect any laughs! For those, either watch a comedy or some full-length stand-up routines.
Because, paradoxically, ‘Punchline’ is probably the least funny film about being funny ever made.
Date of viewing: June 5, 2015