Movie Mondays: Honoring Steve Martin

The American Film Institute is awarding its 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award to Steve Martin. Martin is a true renaissance man: author of books for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction; Grammy-winning bluegrass musician; hilarious guest star on Saturday Night Live and other television programs; but he’s primarily known for his contribution to film for nearly 40 years.

You can’t fully appreciate Steve Martin until you’ve seen him in his first major film role: The Jerk (1979)He plays Navin Johnson, the son of poor black sharecroppers whose ridiculous invention catapulted him to fame, fortune and love (with Bernadette Peters), only to lose it all. Many of the non-stop gags and one-liners in this feverishly funny film are priceless. Best line (as a sniper keeps missing Navin but keeps hitting cans of motor oil): “He hates these cans! Stay away from the cans!”

All of Me (1984) isn’t a gag-a-minute comedy like The Jerk, but it’s an outstanding showcase for Martin’s physical comedy. Martin is Roger Cobb, a lawyer who finds the right side of his body taken over by the soul of his client, sour millionairess Edwina Cutwaters (Lily Tomlin). It’s a preposterous premise, but it ends up being a surprisingly sweet and incisive movie about men and women. Best line (after Edwina calls him a peasant): “Look, lady. Just because my grandfather didn’t rape the environment and exploit the workers doesn’t make me a peasant. And it’s not that he didn’t want to rape the environment and exploit the workers; I’m sure he did. It’s just that as a barber, he didn’t have that much opportunity.”

In Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), Martin is Neal Page, a tightly wound businessman valiantly trying to get home for Thanksgiving, but finding all manner of obstacles in his way – not least of which is Del Griffith (John Candy), the world’s most obnoxious traveling salesman. Martin’s exasperated performance is the perfect foil to Candy’s wonderfully irritating character. Best line (after Neal wonders where Del’s hand is upon waking up on a motel bed together): “Those aren’t pillows!”

Martin closed out the ’80s with one of my all time favorites, Parenthood (1989). Martin heads an all-star cast as Gil Buckman, a well-meaning but neurotic husband and father whose relationships with his large extended family – parents, siblings and in-laws, nieces and nephews – paint a comic but richly complex portrait of family life in America. It’s very funny and also very poignant. Best line (after his wife Karen argues that Gil’s very elderly, not always lucid grandmother is brilliant): “Yeah if she’s so brilliant why is she sitting in our neighbor’s car?”

~posted by Frank


3 thoughts on “Movie Mondays: Honoring Steve Martin”

  1. I haven’t seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (but need to); unfortunately, both Pennies from Heaven and The Man with Two Brains are out of print. Believe me, we would own it it we could…

  2. Maybe I can loan my personal copy out on an occasional basis! I should also let it be known that I contacted the Criterion Collection suggesting they release a fancy-pants souped-up version of Pennies from Heaven a couple years ago. Perhaps it’s time I write them again…

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