Woody Allen, The Front (1976): In 1977 the Woodman would release Annie Hall, the very subtle (read: still gut-busting) beginning of his serious period, which at the time must have been bewildering to anyone used to the Woody of Love and Death, What’s Up Tiger Lily? and his amazing stand-up routine. Truth is he had already dabbled with straight-face by headlining Martin Ritt’s HUAC-era drama, as a lowly and only mildly nebbishy bookie who agrees to take credit for blacklisted writers.
Richard Pryor, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986): Only six years after his freebase-inspired self- immolation, Pryor co-wrote, directed and starred in this drama about a stand-up comic who suffers a freebase-inspired self-immolation. Pryor insisted the film was not autobiographical, but far more of an issue is the film’s unsightly histrionics which, though “serious,” attain only a tiny fraction of the honesty and insight Pryor achieved when he was being “funny” about the same subject in Live on the Sunset Strip .
Richard Lewis, Drunks (1995): Reportedly channeling his own history, the wiry, nervy comedian earned accolades for this Sundance fave, where he plays an AA-attendee. And then ... he performs without any level of seriousness ever again, unless you count stints on 7th Heaven and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Steve Martin, The Spanish Prisoner (1997): Martin was a bit of a snooze in his own boring Shopgirl , but David Mamet knew how best to get the serious out of him: cast him as an eerily calm and humorless villain. Please reprise, Steve-O.
Patton Oswalt, Big Fan (2009): The boundlessly enthusiastic Oswalt chose a ’70s-style drama for his first starring role, playing a sports fan with a regular call-in slot on local sports radio. Oswalt avoids hammy fireworks and plays him without condescension.
Demetri Martin, Taking Woodstock (2009): Stick to comedy, dude.
Big Fan concerns an outcast struggling to maintain a collapsing status quo. It also features a revelatory lead performance, an impressively introspective and ham-free dramatic performance by ace comic Patton Oswalt.
For the most part Taking Woodstock acts as welcome revisionist history, with Ang Lee vying to be Robert Altman or Mike Leigh in Topsy-Turvy mode. It’s an inspired idea. That doesn't quite work.
He's one of the leading standup comics of his generation. Now Patton Oswalt is drawing rave reviews for his dramatic turn in the movie "Big Fan." PW's Matt Prigge talks comedy, drama and schlock cinema with Oswalt.
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