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Writer and director David Seltzer throws a thimbleful of cold water onto the business of the stand-up comic: taking the laughing-on-the-outside-crying-on-the-inside cliché, wrapping it in some psychoanalytic cheesecloth, and running with it (in no very purposeful direction) for two full hours. And with the other hand he pitches him a dollar-fifty bouquet. Or her, rather: an ordinary New Jersey housewife following in the footprints of Phyllis Diller, presenting a clear contrast to the teeteringly "unstable" hero, and thus reassuring the viewer that you can be professionally funny and still be sane and normal and nice. (The cliché that Seltzer is running with here is the middle-of-the-road feminist one to do with the importance of self-fulfillment and family supportiveness and all that, and it takes him onto some slurpingly soggy ground: "There are three things I love about my life. I love being a mom. I love being a wife. And I love making people laugh.") Any bits of credibility that briefly bob up to the surface, like the hand of a drowner before its third time going down, are swamped by phoney-baloney Hollywood hokum: the minor mental breakdown, or psychiatrist's-couch monologue, that occurs on stage when the hero's sober-socks father drops in unexpectedly at the club; or the talent-contest climax that boldly sets up a head-to-head confrontation between the hero and heroine, master and protégé (each of them unleashing totally new and untested material for the occasion), and then arrives at a cringingly diplomatic outcome. Tom Hanks, Sally Field. (1988) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R


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