I’ve had a love of comedy my entire life, and have spent much of that time writing and performing it. Yet when it comes to movies I’m frequently accused of hating comedies, simply because I don’t find most of the mainstream comedies of today all that funny. And I easily get bored with those which are largely just a series of cheap gags, without much in the way of story or character to justify feature-length (occasionally this can work for me if enough of the gags are truly inspired, but I find this rare.). My selection today is a comedy I loved from childhood, one which packs a large number of laughs into its runtime, but also doesn’t forget to tell a story. And it’s a glorious vehicle for one of my all-time comedy heroes, Steve Martin.
When I was about 11 to 13 years old, Martin was almost a god to me. I’m still enormously fond of the star and his work, but that was definitely the height of my fandom. There was something about his comic voice and style that was completely and utterly unique. Martin was silly, whimsical, sarcastic, ridiculous, and strangely sophisticated all at the same time. Many of the other comic stars of the time seemed to me to be largely doing the same thing, but not Martin, He was his own thing, and there was no one like him.
In 1984, Steve Martin was looking for his first really big screen success while Lily Tomlin was still riding high from the hit film 9 to 5.
One of my favorite performances of his was in a film for which he received highly deserved critical acclaim, Carl Reiner’s 1984 comedy All of Me. In fact, this performance was so acclaimed that it brought Martin Best Actor awards from the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle. And yet, while the film was also a moderate box office success, it seems to have largely faded from the public consciousness over the years. It’s never seen a quality video release, getting only a 1:33 full-frame DVD and one of the poorest quality digital transfers I’ve ever seen for a V.O.D title (standard definition, of course). But it’s more than worth getting past the poor video quality to enjoy this still very funny and entertaining film, highlighted by Martin’s brilliant comic performance.
Martin plays Roger Cobb, an unhappy lawyer who, who through the sort of complicated events that happen in these sort of comedies, ends up being the unwilling host to the soul of the late Edwina Cutwater (fellow comedy icon Lilly Tomlin), a multi-millionaire who was born with a mysterious illness that left her bedridden her entire life. Edwina controls the left half of Roger’s body, while Roger controls the right. The details and mechanics of the plot are far less important than the opportunities this gives Martin to show off the full range of his phenomenal comic talents. Tomlin (who appears when Roger looks in a mirror) also shines, but it’s Martin’s movie all the way, and he’s still never had a better vehicle to demonstrate that, no matter how hit and miss his film career has been, this wild and crazy guy has a comic talent comparable to the likes of Chaplin and Keaton.
Released the same year as Ghostbusters, Splash and Beverly Hills Cop, All of Me was a modest Box Office success coming in 20th in the crowded rankings from 1984.
Director Carl Reiner, who passed away last year at the age of 98, was also a comedy hero of mine. Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show, which I consider easily on of the greatest sitcoms of all-time, and made numerous other contributions to the field of comedy that left an indelible stamp on American culture. But I admit his track record as a director of feature films was also a bit hit and miss. All of Me was Reiner and Martin’s fourth collaboration, and the previous three has not been especially well-received by critics at the time (the sometimes inspired weirdness of The Jerk has gained in appreciation over the time, and I admit to a fondness for the gimmicky Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid). All of Me was the first of their collaborations to receive widespread acclaim, and Martin later stated that the movie was like a film school for him, teaching him lessons about structure and characterization that stuck with him and allowed him to grow as an actor and writer.
The script for All of Me was by Phil Alden Robinson, who later went on to some success as a director with Field of Dreams and Sneakers. And it’s good script, full of inventive comic scenarios, and well-fleshed out lead characters to whom we develop an attachment. And Reiner applies his singular gift for comic timing and pacing to make the film’s 93 minute runtime fly by.
Director Carl Reiner had collaborated with Steve Martin before on The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, but All of Me was their first commercial success together.
While it’s aged well in most respects, All of Me was made for 1980s comic sensibilities, and some aspects of it are a little uncomfortable in 2021. Watching it again I found myself having trouble with its cavalier treatment of a woman who has spent her life with a debilitating chronic illness and is excited to die so she can move to the cockamamie plan to have her soul placed in a younger, healthier body. And while I still consider the performance of the late, great Richard Libertini as guru Prahka Lasa to be funny work from an immensely talented comic, it’s hard now not to cringe a little at his stereotypical generic pseudo-Indian accent. But of course, none of this particularly raised any eyebrows in 1984, and any film has to be judged largely through the lens of the time when it was made.
If you want to just sit back, be entertained and laugh, All of Me is a great way to spend an evening. It’s rated PG for fairly mild profanity and some sexual situations which are treated comedically.
⭐ For more information on where to Buy, Rent, or Stream All of Me, click here for the All of Me JustWatch page.