I watched Punchline this week, a 1988 film starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Many years ago I picked up the VHS tape of it in a bargain bin at K-Mart. I fell in love with the movie and it had a huge influence on my decision to eventually try stand-up comedy myself many years later after moving to Memphis. Since I recently started doing open mics again just a few months ago, I wanted to watch it again. I have no idea what happened to my VHS tape but thanks to Amazon Video I was able to see it.
Surprisingly, this movie still holds up. Other than how young Tom Hanks looks, the movie doesn’t necessarily have an old 80’s vibe to it. The jokes told in the film aren’t very dated other than one comedian who carries a large boom box on stage. I know the movie inside and out, but I wasn’t bored by it. You get that feeling sometimes when you watch an old movie again and you suddenly realize that you’ve outgrown it or it just doesn’t feel as good as it did back in the day. It wasn’t dated then, but maybe it is now. Not Punchline. Punchline is still funny.
This movie is two hours long unlike most lackluster comedies today that barely clock an hour and a half and sometimes you think that’s too long. Honestly, Punchline feels like one of those movies because it goes by so fast but that’s because it really is funny and relies on true stand up and comedic situations rather that sight gags or lewd humor. And the plot line doesn’t get dragged down by ad libbed humor or unnecessary characters. It’s actually quite simple.
Sally Field plays Lilah, a housewife who is trying to make it as a stand-up comic. Tom Hanks plays Steven, a med school dropout who is a pretty regular on the comedy scene. When the two cross paths at a club called The Gas Station, Lilah asks Steven for some tips and feedback.
Steven is hesitant because he’s got his own problems, and Lilah has to juggle her housewife roll. But she finally commits and so does Steven. What follows is Lilah’s epiphany as she becomes more comfortable on stage and comes alive. There’s a scene where he takes her to a club and won’t let her use her regular jokes and that A-ha! moment is a great scene to watch.
There’s a minor plotline where Steven falls for Lilah, and she almost gives up comedy to make her husband happy. By the way, her husband is played by John Goodman. It’s a small role before he stepped into the role of Dan on the hit show Roseanne, but still a very noteworthy role for him! You’ll hate Steven through most of the movie, maybe even in the very end, but the story lines are wrapped up beautifully.
I doubt this movie would even be made today. It would be considered too long and probably not obscene enough. It’s interesting to see how Hollywood has changed our tastes in humor through the years and Punchline is a perfect example of what “was” funny in the 80’s.
Also, I think this movie would have to turn into a love story to even try to appeal to an older audience because a younger crowd would have no interest in middle-aged stand-up comedy. That’s why I think this movie is a classic just the way it is! If you enjoy good clean humor, Tom Hanks and Sally Field deliver in Punchline!