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Lighter side of Robert DeNiro

Lighter side of Robert DeNiro

New film ‘The Intern’ is a hilarious cross-generational romantic comedy originally written with Jack Nicholson as the lead. Enter Robert Anthony DeNiro Jr who is more revered for his strong, dedication to dramatic roles. An actor known to stay in character no matter how unusual the part may be – even when the cameras are off. During the making of Taxi Driver (1976), he continued to drive around the sleazy areas of New York picking up passengers in (mostly) full unhinged Travis Bickle mode.

Now an icon of cinema, Italian American DeNiro was acknowledged as one of the best actors of his generation early, maybe the finest screen presence since Marlon Brando, his co-star in The Godfather. It was for the much hailed superior sequel Godfather Part 2 that he won his first Academy Award for supporting actor then won as lead for his performance in Martin Scorsese’s groundbreaking boxing opus, Raging Bull (1980); but the movie itself was not a hit. DeNiro’s name on the marquee was thought not to be a guarantee of box-office success, even when he made a calculated decision of commercial comedy action in Midnight Run (1988). Although in 1982 he made The King of Comedy with Jerry Lewis, it was no laugh-in. Midnight Run became a word of mouth hit that showed a humorous side with quick comic timing – a side most were basically unaware of.

Between ongoing dramatic parts, more comedic roles followed of varied success. We’re No Angels, Mistress – not so good, and Mad Dog and Glory, impressive opposite Bill Murray. DeNiro still enjoyed bigger popularity flaunting his serious side in such lauded masterpieces as Goodfellas and Heat opposite old friend Al Pacino.

It wasn’t until the political satire Wag the Dog (1997) that critics sat up and gave rave reviews for his lighter side while Analyze This (1999) sealed acclaim, this time sending up his very own Godfather persona. It worked and audiences agreed, Robert DeNiro could be just as hilarious as his legendary comic co-star Billy Crystal.

All actors who dabble in various genres stipulate that being funny is hard and the following year were two more comedy efforts of extremely different kinds. The first almost undone all his previous excellent work by appearing as Fearless Leader in the appalling big screen adaptation of Rocky & Bullwinkle. The response was unanimous, it was a flop and although DeNiro sent up his iconic Taxi Driver by repeating the phrase ‘You talkin’ to me’ and has since stated he had fun making it, the trajectory of that mess could have finished him in comedies for life. Until Meet the Parents introduced ex-CIA operative and father in-law to be, Jack Byrnes. Released around the crowded Christmas season, it became a massive global phenomenon spawning two sequels and literally cemented Robert DeNiro as hilarious.

More recent efforts have been bumpy at the box office but his amusing routines are still apparent. Treading a fine line of overdoing self parody, Grudge Match (2013) took DeNiro back into the boxing area with nods to Raging Bull to coincide with his co-star Sylvester Stallone also throwing back to yesteryear with a satirical version of his very own creation, Rocky Balboa. The film worked, just. Underrated black comedy The Family (2013) gets better with each viewing, there are references to Goodfellas throughout with more laughs if you’re a fan of the gangster classic.

His latest comedy, The Intern, is a triple whammy. It’s very funny, exploits a fatherly side to his new boss (Anne Hathaway in a role Reese Witherspoon turned down), and romantic thoughts towards a colleague (Rene Russo, a previous three time co-star of DeNiro). Upset and bored during retirement, a 70 year old enters into a senior internship for a major fashion conglomerate. At first a novelty to the alpha generation, he becomes much more than the sweet new/old guy around the office. The Intern is well worth the ticket, now showing.

Shane A. Bassett

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