Tom Hanks Project – “Punchline” Review

21 Jan


Movies about stand-up comedy are rarely as funny as stand-up itself, and that’s probably true for this one, but it is a good, slightly dark comedy that really worked*. Tom plays Steven Gould, a young man failing out of medical school, but on the rise at a NYC comedy club. He meets and helps an unhappy house wife Lilah Krytsick (Sally Field) to gain confidence and better her act and a real connection forms between them. Will she leave her husband (John Goodman) for him? Will either of them win the big stand-up competition for a shot on Carson? It kept us guessing.

*I say it’s a straight-up dark comedy, and I really like it.

punchlinebwSteven Gold is a terrible med student*. We find out he’s aced his last test, but the board suspects foul play. When they make him take an oral exam he fails miserably**. He’s far better at riffing on stage, and has become the main draw at the dive local comedy club, even besting stars like Damon Wayans. Lilah is not as successful. She’s paying a strange man $500 for old jokes that everyone’s heard already and she doesn’t have a point of view or direction to her set. Still, Gold likes her and agrees to take her under his wing***. Especially after he hears she pays for jokes and he’s locked out of his apartment.

*Actually, I think that’s untrue. He isn’t the best because he stays out late to do comedy, but they make it clear he really cares about his patients, and he actually remembers all the parts he’s supposed to for his oral exam. Later, it’s revealed he is made very uncomfortable by blood and dissections, so I think it’s just a case of, his father and brother forced him into something his heart wasn’t quite in.

**Again, not true. He gets EVERYTHING right and then just can’t remember “rectum” until after the professor leaves the room. Ehh I ain’t going to Dr. Steven Gold if I’m really sick, I’ll tell ya that much.

***Begrudgingly. She kinda really forces herself on him, because he’s kind of an asshole to her at first.

johnsallyAt first we think Lilah’s husband is a big lug and he is pretty rough on her, telling her she isn’t funny and not to blow their money on jokes. Her three daughters (including Candace Cameron!*) are super supportive, telling her how much they love her and how funny she is. Gold and her bond as he does a gig at a hospital and then go out to eat together. They do have a real friendship going, but he misinterprets it.

*I spotted DJ Tanner immediately, and was quite proud of myself.

Lilah’s relationship with her husband is complicated. She loves him, and he really does love her and shows it occasionally – I like this because it’s not the stereotypical “bad husband make wife do house work” situation. They show that it’s complicated – it really is just putting a strain on their relationship, in part because Lilah won’t let her husband go to a show to see how great she is. For the big contest, though, she finally lets him attend, and he laughs hysterically. This leads to probably the sweetest scene in the movie, wherein he writes her a note on a napkin while all the comics are waiting on the results of the contest, and it says something like, “The contest is over. You win. -John” (yes, John Goodman’s character’s name is John). So, he’s agreed to support her as she follows her dreams of being a comedienne, and before she actually even goes to the contest, there’s this really amazing, heartfelt scene where she tells her little girls that she wouldn’t want them to think that they shouldn’t go for their dreams when they have the love and support of their family behind them.

punch06hBefore all that, there’s a much darker scene wherein Lilah is turning down Steven, and he basically “fakes” being suicidal about it (although honestly, he’s in a really dark place and it’s kinda scary). He dances in the rain a la “Singing in the Rain” but dodging cars as he does so, and it’s all pretty bleak. Both Steven and Lilah do show up for the comedy contest, though, and…Lilah wins. But she refuses to claim her praise, because she says Steven’s act went over the best, far and away. So, Steven is given the first prize and a chance to appear on the  Johnny Carson show, because, as Lilah says to John when she’s telling him that she won, “I have time. I have you, I have the girls, and you support me – I have time.” The. best.


Laugh out Loud: Zack: 58 Caitlin: 25 This is one of the biggest laugh discrepancies we’ve had. I thought it was funny throughout, I enjoyed a lot of the stand-up and found a lot of “oh, that’s pleasant” laughs. Not a hilarious movie, but I got my share of chuckles in. Zack found a lot of the stand-up comedy jokes funny. I did not at all. Sally Field had me cracking up once or twice, but overall I found the humor was sexist, racist and just not my thing. My laughs came more from the actual plot of the movie, I’d say.

Cry: Both 0. Not even close.

Cover Eyes: Zack: 0 Caitlin: 1 Steven was so awkward doing stand-up for his dad and brother that Caitlin had to look away. Seriously, I had to pull up my “curtain” of a blanket – it was worse than The Office, in terms of awkwardness.

punch03hRomantic interest: Zack: 4 Caitlin: 3 As much as Steven genuinely did care for Lilah, it was misplaced affection for a married woman who really didn’t have sexual feelings for him. She may feel a bit held back by her husband, but he turns out to be supportive and Steven’s attempt at telling her what a great dad he’d be to her kids because he can tell kids jokes was almost as painful as his attempt at stand-up with his dad and brother in the crowd. You did not root for these two. Especially knowing Sally would play Tom’s mom 6 years later in “Forrest Gump.” For me, I definitely did not feel like this was a romance we were even *supposed* to root for. The writers knew what they were doing – it was actually putting an emphasis on how insane it is for someone to think he’s fallen in love with a woman after spending all of about 48 hours with her over the course of a few days. They had a beautiful friendship, but Lilah was right to turn down Steven, and he acted like a lost child about the whole thing. It was very interesting, complicated and well-acted.

Hanks: Zack: 7.5 Caitlin: 7.9 It’s a solid performance. Not his best, but dependable and believable as a pretty complicated character. He’s got some serious daddy issues and is emotionally unstable enough to be a believable comic. It all worked. I think Hanks did a fantastic job in this film. This is the first film where, when he had to play a jerk off and on, I really believed him as a jerk. He was complex, sad, a bit pathetic, but funny and just believable as hell. Really good stuff.

Movie: Zack: 8.1 Caitlin: 8.2 We really enjoyed it. I’m putting it slightly above “The Money Pit,” but a couple notches below “Nothing in Common.” I’d definitely recommend it. I’m putting this above “Nothing in Common,” because I think Sally Field’s character, Lilah, is so interesting. I like the twists and turns of this movie, and that it doesn’t contain the usual Hollywood romance line. I totally recommend seeing this film, it’ll stick with you and make you think.

Link to all of our Tom Hanks Project Posts


One Response to “Tom Hanks Project – “Punchline” Review”


  1. Introduction to The Tom Hanks Project | rockloveaustin - January 21, 2014

    […] Punchline – 1988 Review […]

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