Steve Martin is a marvellous unique talent, in that he cut his teeth on wacky prop comedy, hit the big time with brilliantly stupid movies, and has aged into being a fiercely astute intellectual who can run the gamut between smart and dumb humour with relaxed ease. From introducing the world to the air quotes to playing a banjo in a skirt, he knew how to tickle the funny bones of the masses. So, today, on 72th birthday of exceptional the actor/comedian/musician/host/writer, we bring you some of his iconic movies.
The Jerk (1979)
Steve Martin has often said that while his film career doesn’t add up to many classics, it would make a great selection of clips. Martin’s first starring role had him playing an adopted white man in a poor family, oblivious to his unusual heritage – “You mean I’m gonna stay this colour?” – Who embarks on a picaresque series of adventures. Made at a time when most comedies tried to make their lead seem cool and hip, Martin went the other way, embracing dumb humour and raising it to an art form.
Pennies from heaven (1981)
Early in his film career, this was the first sign that Steve Martin was willing to take a left turn and try something different. Worried about being typecast as a buffoon, Martin used the career capital he’d earned with The Jerk to make his dramatic debut in the American remake of the 1978 BBC series Pennies from Heaven. Martin was Golden Globe nominated for his work here, in a depression-era musical that tends to leave as many people cold as it does warm in truth. It disappointed at the box office, but certainly doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. A bold choice from Martin, and very early proof that he had plenty to offer the screen.
Father of the bride (1991)
Father of the Bride and its sequel garnered Steve Martin a host of film awards and nominations for his role as family man George Stanley Banks. His wife Nina was played by Diane Keaton. There’s a real generosity to Martin’s performance here, and he’s happy to stand back and let Martin Short waltz in to steal the movie as Frank, the wedding planner. Furthermore, it’s hard not to warm to his struggle to let his beloved daughter go, contrasted with the rising cost and scale of the wedding too. The sequel, which in turn was based on the earlier movie Father’s Little Dividend, is best avoided though.
Director Ron Howard helped Martin complete the transformation from ‘wild and crazy guy’ to ‘average guy’ in this ensemble comedy about a man who is unexpectedly expecting his fourth child Even though it sported a cast including Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves, Jason Robards, Martha Plimpton and even a young Joaquin Phoenix as a family creating one headache after another, one of the most memorable scenes remains when Mary Steenburgen helped introduce the concept of “road head” into a PG film.
L.A Story (1991)
Saving the best for last. Possibly Martin’s best film – likely because he wrote it himself. A disenchanted Los Angeles weatherman is not pleased at all with his life, but after meeting Sara, a London journalist played by his then wife Victoria Tennant, he becomes smitten enough to start consulting cryptic electronic highway signs for advice on how to become a better person. It’s a weirdly charming portrait of how ridiculous life is in the City of Angels, and how you can get too caught up in the surface of things in this city to notice what’s lovely and enchanting about it – and there are lovely and enchanting things about it. This movie marks the pinnacle of Martin’s maturation on film comedy. Compiled by Nikita Wadhawan