Mr. Saturday Night
1992 Directed by Billy Crystal. Starring Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Julie Warner, Helen Hunt, Ron Silver, Mary Mara.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 25, 1992
The character of Buddy Young, Jr. has been percolating through Billy Crystal's act for a number of years now. This fictional comic, a master of one-liners and insult humor, has evolved over the course of Crystal's appearances on Saturday Night Live and various TV specials. In Mr. Saturday Night, Buddy becomes fully fleshed out, a feature film protagonist instead of a fleeting comedy sketch. Crystal, who debuts as a director here in addition to co-scripting with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Crystal also teamed up with this writing duo to pen last summer's comedy hit, City Slickers), has created a personality near and dear to his heart. His portrait of the comic spans a lifetime, starting with Buddy's contempt for his current gigs on the retirement community circuit and then ricocheting wantonly through the past and the present to show us the man behind the next-big-thing-that-never-was. Always the groomsman, never a groom, Buddy's humor has a real mean streak and his drive for success has a tendency to self-detonate. Even when Buddy has his own weekly TV show which earned him the title, Mr. Saturday Night, his nastiness costs him this prized spot. He emotionally abuses his understanding wife (Warner) and less-than-understanding daughter (Mara) but, most of all, we witness the strains on his relationship with his brother (Payner), who is also his agent, advisor, best friend and comedy partner back in their childhood living room. Payner's depiction of brother Stan is a thing of quiet beauty as he stoicly plays straight man to Buddy's insane ego. But then, for all Buddy's mean-tempered stingers, he also has a counterbalancing pool of sentimental sludge. Crystal, the filmmaker, works this heart-wrenching ooze for all it's worth. Every time you're about to write Buddy off as a obnoxious pig, he has some kind of touching moment that reminds you that “pigs” are people, too. Whereas someone like Martin Scorsese can give us a fascinating portrait of a hateful, self-defeating “almost was” in something like his monumental Raging Bull, what we have in Mr. Saturday Night is mostly a portrait of a sad old man as a hateful, young man. Mr. Saturday Night will probably be a box office hit for all the same reasons that Crystal himself is a popular draw. But to quote Buddy Young's catch phrase: “Don't get me started on that.”