In life, some things are certain. The earth will spin on its axis, the sun will rise and set, and Robert De Niro’s leading ladies will be at least two decades younger than him. It comes as no surprise, then, to hear the news that Jennifer Aniston has committed to star opposite the Academy Award winning legend, in his long-awaited humorous project, The Comedian – to be directed by Oscar winner Taylor Hackford.
The Comedian seems to have had a particularly long gestation period and was, at one point, going to be directed by Mike Newell. Robert De Niro has remained with the project throughout the development process, however, and that patience is now paying off, with the final pieces of the puzzle falling into place.
Written and produced by Art Linson (What Just Happened) – with stand-up material by Jeffrey Ross – The Comedian will feature De Niro in the role of a deeply unpleasant club comic, who is in the process of reassessing his life, and taking stock of his choices. Jennifer Aniston will play a woman that he meets at a wedding, and with whom he develops a close bond.
The premise makes The Comedian sound like an incredibly average movie, at best. There is little originality to be found in a tale of an older man reflecting on his years while enjoying the company of a sympathetic, youthful woman – a role that will undoubtedly exist solely within the context of what she can provide for the leading man. Aniston is a reliable comedic performer, and De Niro is a hugely talented actor – but more will be needed to lift this project above everything we’ve seen these two deliver before.
It is disappointing, too, to see such plotlines and such casting, at a time when very small amounts of progress are finally being made in Hollywood films with regard to equality of opportunity for women. We are seeing women directors become slightly more visible. We are hearing prominent voices discuss equal pay, the lack of quality leading roles, and the standard, marginalizing templates that other female film roles reflect. However, here we have yet another example of an actress – accomplished in her own career – being cast opposite a man more than 20 years her senior, because that’s the material that aging male screenwriters produce.
This is standard for Hollywood, and it is standard for De Niro – whose screen debut occurred before Aniston was born. In a career spanning more than five decades, with over 100 acting credits to his name, De Niro has spent most of them performing opposite women far younger than himself. From Cathy Moriarty in Raging Bull, to Uma Thurman in Mad Dog And Glory; from Amy Brenneman in Heat, to Sharon Stone in Casino; from Robin Wright in What Just Happened to Milla Jovovich in Stone – the pattern continues.
Sometimes, the age gap forms a part of the plot, such as in Taxi Driver, or Jackie Brown, for example – but it always serves to benefit the older man in some way, as he receives, more often than not, reverence, deference and redemption from his younger co-star. Since no progress is being made to change this odious Hollywood tradition, we shouldn’t expect to see Aniston, in 2045, starring as an aging comic while romancing an actor born just as her appearance in 1988’s Mac And Me hit the big screen.
At this point, the only way The Comedian could be an interesting film project, is if the roles were reversed, with Robert De Niro playing the ‘younger’ character. The Comedian would then become a film in which 93 year old club comic Betty White attends the wedding of her granddaughter – played by Jennifer Aniston – and hooks up with a man 20 years her junior. Now, that is a film I would pay to see.