The Jerk Movie Poster Image

The Jerk

(i)

 

Classic Steve Martin comedy with frequent profanity.
  • Review Date: February 6, 2014
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1979
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Love and family are far more important than material possessions. Although Navin is a "jerk" who is often oblivious to what's going on around him, he cares for his friends and family, even going so far as to send what money he can back home to his adopted family.

Positive role models

As the film is a raw comedy, the characters aren't really meant to be role models.

Violence

A crazed gunman points a rifle and scope at Navin with intent to kill him. Patty hits Navin, and Marie punches her out. The wife of Navin's butler is executed by firing squad (not shown) as a penalty for an early bank withdrawal. Navin karate-chops three racist financial advisors and hurts his foot on one ("Iron Balls" McGinty). Within the film, the offense that is perceived as the most horrific is the juggling of kittens for fun and profit. Toward the end of the film, a sports car is shown losing control, driving off a cliff and exploding -- the result of a movie director becoming cross-eyed.

Sex

A domineering motorcycle daredevil woman seduces Navin, and the camera shows her trailer bouncing up and down. She gets Navin's name tattooed on her rear end and makes a reference to "putting a rubber on it." Most of the sexuality is intimated, as when Navin is heard (from an exterior shot) saying, "This is like a ride." He writes home that he has discovered what his mother meant about his body part's "special purpose" and that he plans to have sex as often as possible.

Language

Frequent profanity: "s--t," "ass," "bastard," "goddamn." Toward the end of the movie, mafia goons refer to African Americans as "jungle bunnies" and use the "N" word, which inspires Navin to say that he also is an "N" word since he was raised by an African American family. Navin names his dog "S--thead." A young boy in an amusement park is shown in an extended scene wearing a T-shirt that reads "Bull S--t." Navin's first girlfriend calls his second girlfriend a "gash."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

In the beginning of the movie, Navin is sitting outside next to disheveled homeless men passed out with bottles of alcohol at their sides. Navin is given a bottle of booze from his adopted brother for his birthday. Characters are shown smoking cigarettes. A petty criminal in the backseat of a car is shown smoking a joint and offers it to Navin. Later in the movie, after Navin has become successful, he and his girlfriend are shown drinking wine in a fancy restaurant and then are surrounded by drinkers at a disco party. In his mansion, white and red wine are dispensed from twin water coolers.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Jerk is a 1979 Steve Martin comedy that is -- while certainly one of Martin's best and best-loved movies -- filled with frequent profanity as well as the use of racial slurs. Although the use of racial slurs is used to heighten a scene in which mob goons are trying to keep minorities out of real estate in more upscale neighborhoods, the nuance of the scene might be lost on younger viewers. In an extended scene, a young boy is shown wearing a T-shirt that reads "Bull S--t." There is some sexual innuendo: Navin's adopted mother had referred to his penis as having a "special purpose," and he finds out just what that means when he loses his virginity to a tough-acting, foul-mouthed motorcycle stuntwoman. The stuntwoman's trailer is shown from the outside rocking up and down. A crazed gunman is shown pursuing Navin with a rifle and scope, trying to kill him from a distance. Characters are shown drinking, smoking cigarettes, and, in one scene, smoking a joint. Although The Jerk is one of the all-time great comedies, the content and raw material for the comedy make this best for mature teens and older.

What's the story?

Bumbling and naive Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) is raised in rural Mississippi by an African-American family. One day his adoptive parents finally break the news to him that he's actually white. On this same night, he hears elevator music on the radio for the first time, loves it, and decides he must leave home to learn about the world. He first goes to St. Louis -- where the radio station was based -- and finds a job pumping gas after being hired by a kindly boss (Jackie Mason). It is here that he invents a grip on eyeglasses that prevents them from slipping off the nose, and he presents it to a salesman. After he slowly settles into his job, he must leave after a crazed gunman tries to kill him after finding his name at random in the phonebook. He escapes and joins a carnival. At the carnival, he loses his virginity to a foul-mouthed and violent motorcycle stuntwoman but falls in love with a sweet woman named Marie (Bernadette Peters). It's at this time when the salesman returns with the news that Navin's invention is a lucrative success, and Navin is now a millionaire. But as success, wealth, and fame go to his head, things start to fall apart -- personally and financially -- and Navin must learn to realize what is really and truly important in this world.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

THE JERK is a classic Steve Martin vehicle -- and certainly the part he was born to play, especially in his late-'70s "wild and crazy guy" heyday. His one-of-a-kind quips and herky-jerky physical comedy are as much a joy to witness now as it was when this movie first came out. With comedy legend Carl Reiner directing and unforgettable supporting roles from Jackie Mason and Bernadette Peters, the result is an incredible mix of barbed satire, silly pratfalls, and, at its core, sweetness.

What's striking now is how well the movie has aged, placing it up there with Caddyshack and Airplane! as one of the great comedies from that era. Although some of the humor and content make this one problematic for kids, for mature teens and older folks, The Jerk is a comedy that improves with age and repeated viewings.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how race is depicted in the movie. How is racial stereotyping explored in serious and not-so-serious ways?

  • How is Navin's naiveté revealed in the film, and how is this used as the primary source of the comedy?

  • What are some aspects of the movie that place it firmly in the late 1970s? If this movie were to be remade today, what do you think would be different about it?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 14, 1979
DVD release date:July 26, 2005
Cast:Bernadette Peters, Jackie Mason, Steve Martin
Director:Carl Reiner
Studio:Universal Pictures
Genre:Comedy
Topics:Misfits and underdogs
Run time:94 minutes
MPAA rating:R

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 10 years old August 2, 2009

All age appropriate

Would've been rated PG-13 if they had it.
Teen, 14 years old Written bySpielberg00 May 31, 2012

Definitely PG-13 by today's standards.

My suggested MPAA rating: PG-13 for language including some sexual references. SEX: 2.5/5 - Some references, and it turns out Steve Martin's character's "special purpose" isn't what we initially thought it was. LANGUAGE: 3/5 - Frequent use of "s--t", but not much else.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 17 years old Written bydavyborn May 2, 2012

Crude 70's comedy classic showcases a young Steve Martins talents

Carl Reiners infamous 1979 box office smash, The Jerk, was actually the first movie to star comedian Steve Martin in a starring role. The Jerk is one of the more memorable comedies of the 1970's, but it is one that is horribly dated, with still very funny, but nonetheless old fashioned humor poking fun at the southern african american lifestyle, with plenty of stereotyping, and with one fairly famous, but still funy twist: Navin (Steve Martin), has been living with his loving black family, and on his 30th birthday, he finally finds out the truth: He is white. Yes. He discovers this within the first ten minutes. but, once he discovers this, he vows to branch out into the world and make a name for himself, while meeting a long string of strangers and odd people, until finally meeting the love of his life, but, when success goes to his head, he must find a way to get out. Sounds long, yes? Well, the movie is only 93 minutes long, so it is rather rushed. But, despite the fact that the movie is obviously very dated and overly crude by today's standards, The Jerk still works well enough on the audience, especially with Steve Martins ingenious performance, which emits laughter pretty much constantly throughout the whole movie, acting as a complete moron, but a goodhearted and well-meaning moron, at that. Now, despite the fact that the movie was made in 1979, and that the R Rating is slightly inaccurate by today's standards, it still isn't really very appropriate for younger children: There is frequent crude humor, occasionally involving both violence and sex, with numerous graphic implied sex scenes, and a scene where a crazed sniper angrily attempts to kill Navin, but is quickly foiled. Also, there is heavy, comical drinking throughout the movie, but, it is often to the point of excess. Also, there is frequent, but average profanity, including several uses each os sh-t, g-dd-mn, a--h-le, d-mn, h-ll, a--, crap and n-gg-r. Carl Reiner's comedy classic, The Jerk, still manages to make you laugh, all of these long years later, but it is occasionally because of the film's large amount of racist humor and crudeness.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

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