Mr. Saturday Night [1992]

Billy Crystal co-wrote, directed, and starred in this ambitious 1992 comedy-drama about an aged comedian named Buddy Young Jr., whose foul attitude and poor judgment have a strongly negative effect on his career and the people who care for him most. A survivor of the Borscht Belt tradition of stand-up comedians, Buddy's quick with a one-liner but clueless about how to treat people--he's like a cross between George Burns, Milton Berle, and a rabid pit bull. Helen Hunt plays Buddy's tolerant new agent who's been hired to revive his lagging career, but the movie's saving grace is David Paymer's Oscar-nominated performance as Buddy's much-maligned brother, who's helpless to stop Buddy's downward spiral. Having invented the Buddy Young character for his own comedy routines, Crystal knows this comic curmudgeon inside and out, and his show-biz savvy adds much-needed authenticity under layers of phony-looking old-age makeup. The movie works best when it's offering insight into Buddy's lifetime of disappointment, and some of the dialogue is memorably sharp. Crystal can't resist a seemingly forced happy ending, however, and the closing scenes resort to sentimentality that clashes with the rest of the movie. --Jeff Shannon

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