Dustin Hoffman takes on the role of iconic 60's stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce in Lenny, director Bob Fosse's first post-Cabaret film.
The movie, which is presented to us in gorgeous black and white, follows Bruce's relationship with stripper Honey (Valerie Perrine) as they get married and eventually share some tumultuous times together. We also, of course, see how Bruce's career as a comedian developed over the years and get a good glimpse of the sleazy side of his character and comedy clubs. Though the film is about Lenny Bruce, one of the most important comedians to date, I wouldn't expect too many laughs with this movie as it's far darker and moodier than you'd expect. There's a fascinating contrast throughout the movie between the cornier aspects of Bruce's early style of comedy and the raw and gritty 70's style of the film itself. Fosse certainly doesn't sugar-coat anything and even includes some documentary-style Q&A's with Perrine's character here and there, which adds a strangely modern feel to the whole thing. Leaving Las Vegas would try the same thing years later to a less effective extent.
Hoffman gives a perfectly crafted performance and even though he looks nothing like Lenny Bruce, he captures the spirit of his work so well that you'll soon forget that. Perrine gives it her all and it's no wonder why she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival back in 1975. The film looks great, boasts a terrific script and, even though it's based on a play, it never feels stagey. It is one depressing ride, though. Even when nothing too dark is happening in this movie, you still feel like something's wrong somehow. All these weird audiences and people Bruce comes in contact with have a grotesque, almost spooky quality to them like it's a particularly morose Fellini film or something. While the film gets its point across brilliantly, putting forward why Lenny Bruce was such a valuable comedian, there's very little in the way of laughs as I mentioned before. Bruce's story is one of tragic frustration as he was clearly way ahead of his time and the film captures this so convincingly that, by the end of the film, you'll probably need to be cheered up big time.
Bob Fosse's film is a stylish, well-made biopic all around and the two lead performances alone make Lenny well worth it. If you're into comedy at all this is also a really interesting look into the life of one hugely talented and forward-thinking comedian who was just born too damn early.