Categories
Legacy Review

Punchline (1988)

Buried early in Tom Hanks’ filmography is a a light drama about comedians with broken personal lives. It comes a full 20 years before Judd Apatow probed the same topic in his opus Funny People. The subject remains one I find pretty fascinating and believable. Perhaps it’s the inherent irony of a sad clown; more likely, there’s a lot of resonance in the idea that the people most determined to make others laugh are probably the ones who most need to themselves.

Hanks and Sally Field play competing comedians at a small but popular club called The Gas Station with a large roster of regular performers. Steven (Hanks) is a struggling med student with an energetic act on the verge of getting noticed by talent scouts; Lilah (Field) is an unhappy housewife looking for a personal outlet. The two strike up a friendship after discovering some overlap in their existential longing.

Field and Hanks are absolutely terrific here; Hanks straddles the line between razor wit and unfiltered neurosis, making some his material tough to watch but always compelling. Field perfectly captures a burdened mom without making the role too dour; there’s a masterful scene where she scrambles to get her house ready for guests and we see her tedious home life spelled out in rapid speed.

Not every plot point lands, and the stand-up material itself is pretty mixed — a lot of it racist. (Has there every been a movie to make standup comedy seem actually funny?) But I was charmed and bought in on the characters, both of whom get good development. And it’s yet another reminder of how dynamic young Hanks was as a performer.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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