The Jerk (1979)

The Jerk (1979)
  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Carl Reiner
  • Cast: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Catlin Adams


After discovering he’s not really black like the rest of his family, likable dimwit Navin Johnson runs off on a hilarious misadventure in this comedy classic that takes him from rags to riches and back to rags again. The slaphappy jerk strikes it rich, but life in the fast lane isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and, in the end, all that really matters to Johnson is his true love.


  • I can’t figure out why flat out comedies these days are not funny like “The Jerk”. I think of today’s comedies as Will Ferrell movies. I hate Will Ferrell movies. I simply do not find them funny.

    With “The Jerk” I laughed out loud a number of times throughout the movie. I rarely do that when I am watching anything aside from “Seinfeld”. The comedy in “The Jerk” seems dumb on the outside, but if you really think about it, it is quite clever and smart. Lines such as “he really hates those cans” and “the phonebook is here!” are really nicely done.

    However, there are a number of times that we get some really stupid comedy. The head spinning around is the most obvious. There are several others that really should not have been in this movie.

    The character of Navis is very good as well. I liked the way how he excitedly yelled most everything throughout the movie. His obliviousness and naïvety really drive all of his actions and make for a lot of funny moments.

    “The Jerk” is a great comedy with a lot of smart humor and a touch of some stupid, bad humor as well. I definitely recommend it.

  • Desperate to make a career on the big screen in order to prolong his soaring stand-up career, Steve Martin wrote the premise for The Jerk based on one line from one of his routines – “I was born a poor black child.” As so Navin B. Johnson – the dim-witted adopted son of a family of black sharecroppers – was born. Light on plot but heavy on laughs, The Jerk is a shaggy-dog tale of an idiot’s pursuit of the American Dream, and his downfall once he finds it, all shaped around Martin’s stage persona by the writing team of Martin, Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias.

    After learning from his mother that he is adopted (“You mean I’m gonna stay this colour?”), Navin sets out on the road to experience the big wide world and make it on his own. Along the way, he takes a variety of odd-jobs, from a gas station attendant to a weight-guesser at a travelling carnival, finally making his fortune with a ridiculous contraption called ‘Opti-Grab’ – a device that allows a pair of glasses to be removed and placed on the face with relative ease. He also falls in love with the doe-eyed Marie (Bernadette Peters), and the two share a lovely scene singing Tonight You Belong to Me on the beach before things start to fall apart as Navin becomes insufferable due his increasing wealth.

    Described (and criticised) as a film of ‘funny hats’ by Roger Ebert (as opposed to ‘funny logic’ – the reason for the funny hat), your enjoyment of The Jerk depends very much on your sense of humour. If sight-gags and goofiness is your thing, then there is much to love about The Jerk. Martin and director Carl Reiner clearly set out to give you a laugh a minute here, and while some jokes fall flat or come across as simply bizarre, they largely succeed. It’s frequently crass but never mean-spirited (Navin innocently names his dog ‘Shithead’), and it’s a throwback to a less politically correct time when the white leading man could drop the ‘n’ word and get away with it. It’s also a reminder of just how great Steve Martin used to be before he lowered himself to the family-friendly pap he is now better known for by modern audiences.

    Rating: 4/5

    Read more reviews at The Wrath of Blog

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