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MGM Studios DVD presents
Mr. Saturday Night (1992)

Stan: You know every night when you bring the fat lady up from the audience and you ram her ass with your head?
Buddy: Yeah?
Stan: You're doing it wrong.

- David Paymer, Billy Crystal

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 04, 2002

Stars: Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Julie Warner
Other Stars: Helen Hunt, Ron Silver, Slappy White, Bill Wendell, Jerry Orbach, Mary Mara, Adam Goldberg
Director: Billy Crystal

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific Media Corporation
MPAA Rating: R for strong language
Run Time: 01h:58m:33s
Release Date: June 04, 2002
UPC: 027616876645
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- BA-B+ B

DVD Review

There was a time when standup comedy wasn't plastered all over the airwaves, when it was the province of a ferocious fraternity of pranksters, who would do absolutely anything for a laugh. Some of them, in the early days of television especially—Sid Caesar, Milton Berle—hit the big time. But if someone is at the top of the ladder, there are sure to be a whole lot of others looking up at their posteriors, wondering, Why that guy? Why not me? Mr. Saturday Night is a look at a fictionalized version of one of those comics, a few rungs down on the comedy food chain—Billy Crystal plays Buddy Young, Jr., a character he developed in his own standup act, and fleshed out into the subject of this feature, which Crystal not only starred in, but wrote (with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel), produced and directed, his first time helming a motion picture.

Buddy was, according to the story, that unfortunate comedian who had to follow the Beatles the first time they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was, briefly, a star at CBS, earning him the moniker "Mr. Saturday Night," which is more hopeful than accurate. And as Buddy rages against the evils of show business and the forces aligned against him, keeping it and him together is his producer, manager and brother, Stan, in a touching performance by David Paymer. The stars never quite aligned for Buddy, and things were never quite as good again as when he was slaying them in the Borscht Belt.

Of course this is principally a comedy—it's a Billy Crystal movie—but in a funny way the film to which it bears the greatest resemblance is Raging Bull. It's Buddy as Jake La Motta, the brother who is in the arena, the self-destructive Young; and Stan as Joey, the manager, the apologist, the one to smooth things over when his brother and his temper ruffle too many feathers. (Even a couple of the shots, especially at the end, with Buddy in front of a makeup mirror, seem deliberately evocative of the Scorsese picture.) Granted, that's a high standard, but the comparison points up the principal shortcomings of Mr. Saturday Night—it's essentially a character study, but the character being studied remains largely opaque. The most developed relationship in the picture is between Buddy and Stan, and they pretty much continue to have some version of the same fight for seventy years. Yes, family is like that, but here it's dramatically unsatisfying; and the limited character development can't be ascribed to historical facts, the way it can with the La Motta brothers. (There may be an emotional truth to this, but the movies demand a different kind of clarity.) Goodness knows things between the brothers can get ugly—at one point Buddy says: "Stanley, let's each do what we do best. I'll tell the jokes. You'll get me a soda when I'm through"—and Stan knows he's been taking too much abuse: "Well, I'm tired of begin the guy who follows the elephant act with a shovel." But after a time the brother-versus-brother scenes feel like wheels spinning—didn't we just see that ten minutes ago? Yes, we did. And we will again.

And the other principal relationships in Buddy's life are sketchily drawn, at best. Stan spots Elaine first, at a hotel in the Catskills, but Buddy bigfoots him and gets the girl—she's filled with an ingénue's wonder with the world ("I don't know what I want. I don't even know what there is"), and falls in a big way for the comedian who killed. (She's played well by an underutilized Julie Warner.) There's the suggestion as the story progresses that Elaine's life has been a series of disappointments and compromises, propping up Buddy through the vagaries of a life in show business, but once their courtship is concluded, she gets very little screen time. Their children fare even more poorly, both in the family and in the context of the movie. We hear about Buddy's son, but that's all (he seems to have renounced the family), and spend a little more time with his daughter, Susan. She's obviously had a life scarred by her father's neglect and being the butt of his jokes (as she says to him in a rough moment: "Hey, do what you always do. Don't worry about me"), and Buddy's epiphany is a rapprochement with her. But again, we as audience members hardly know her, so the payoff isn't there for us. Being Buddy Young's daughter has been a cross to bear, but it all happens off screen. (It makes you appreciate how artfully the Robin Wright character is portrayed in Forrest Gump—she's not at the center of the story, but the journey she takes is a pretty clear and difficult one.) Much of it is deeply felt—it's something that comes through in Crystal's commentary track—but it isn't up on the screen, and the portrayals of all the relationships in Buddy's life lack psychological sophistication.

Things aren't helped by the elaborate flashback structure used to tell the story—the background gets filled in, but at the expense of building up some narrative drive. The movie sort of gets it together in its second half, when Buddy's new agent (Helen Hunt) sends him up for a leading role in a film being made by Hollywood's hottest director (Ron Silver) who happens to be a huge Buddy fan. But even this feels manufactured and arbitrary, and seems more a way to fill out the story than the necessary dramatic culmination we're hoping for. It's unclear to me why the filmmaker rejected the idea of the traditional rise and fall, because all the necessary events are shown or at least described; it also could have provided more of an opportunity for Buddy to be Buddy, to slay the movie audience as thoroughly as he does the crowds at the Nevele.



Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Colors are deeply saturated and black level is strong and consistent; this is a very lovely transfer, and only a few specks and scratches show up now and again. Crystal rightly gives much credit to cinematographer Don Peterman, whose work is particularly strong and does well in concert with the efforts by production designer Albert Brenner.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The stereo track provides consistent dynamics and is largely free of interference. There's occasionally too much ambient noise for my taste, but that seems like a choice by the sound editors, not a problem with the audio transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Billy Crystal and David Paymer
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag reel
Extras Review: Crystal flies solo for the first hour of the commentary, and then is joined by Paymer; they've got a nice rapport, but Crystal is actually better on his own, as the two of them together frequently are content to admire their work. (There are a couple of interesting observations and insights about the acting process in their conversation, though.) This project is obviously close to Crystal's heart—he mentions that he's hoarded all the props, and only occasionally doles them out as gifts—and when he speaks about the movie, there's more passion in his commentary track than there is on the screen, which is unfortunate. His discussion ranges from the narcissistic ("Technically, this is just really nice composition here") to the genuinely insightful—he talks about Buddy as "a terrorist, he's blowing up his own act," and about how the character is "lost in his hostility." Well, why? It's hard to escape the conclusion that this project might have been an overly ambitious directorial debut for an obviously talented man.

Some of that is borne out in the accompanying documentaries, especially the last, Make Up! (06m:39s), in which we learn that Paymer's old age makeup was modeled on photographs of the actor's father, while Crystal's was modeled on Frank Sinatra. (The makeup job is actually pretty poor, I think; the older versions of all three characters are essentially without wrinkles in their cheeks, which suggests to me that this has more to do with actor's vanity than anything else.) Paymer and Crystal were interviewed separately and together for all three documentaries, in 2002, and they both obviously remember the project fondly. In The Buddy Young Jr. story (06m:19s) Crystal traces the history of the character, who first appeared in a 1984 HBO special, then during Crystal's stint on Saturday Night Live, then again on HBO in 1986, in a mock documentary about Buddy called Don't Get Me Started. (Maybe it was a rights and clearances nightmare, but the inclusion of some footage from SNL or the entire '86 HBO special would have made terrific additions to this disc.) Especially noteworthy about the clip featured from Don't Get Me Started is that Buddy is interviewed by Rob Reiner, who, in his nautical baseball cap, seems to be reprising his role as Marty Di Bergi from This Is Spinal Tap. The longest of the three accompanying pieces, See What We Did? (24m:39s) intercuts clips from the movie with Crystal, tooting his own horn: "Oddly enough, it didn't feel like the first time I directed. I just knew what to do." He talks about borrowing from his own life for the movie, and I don't want to dump on anyone's memories, but Mr. Saturday Night is a feature film, not a memoir, and so it's fair game to say that some of it, while true to life, just doesn't work dramatically as well as it might. (Also, all three documentaries have the same credit sequence, the titles cross-cut with Paymer and Crystal.)

Crystal introduces a younger version of himself introducing the seven deleted scenes—perhaps this package (19m:27s) appeared on an original laserdisc release? In any event, the scenes are full frame, and they're generally good, though there aren't any real gems; a bit from one of the deleted scenes made it into the original trailer.

The gag reel (07m:56s) features the actors going up on their lines and bumping into the camera, though the true highlights are the alternate takes of Jerry Lewis in his one scene at the Friars Club, and the inimitable Slappy White.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

This movie is easy enough to watch, but you'll probably sit there wishing it were better—it wants to be touching and maudlin but doesn't earn it, and the effort keeps it from being hilariously funny. Crystal poured himself into the project, which shows, but, metaphorically speaking, his eyes seem to have been bigger than his stomach. Buddy Young is a great character, and a terrific, hilarious movie could be made about him; unfortunately, this isn't it.

 


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