It's kind of impossible to choose just one scene I love from Carl Reiner's classic comedy, The Jerk, where a young Steve Martin is at the top of his game in one hilarious scene after another, each showcasing the comedian's pitch perfect humor and impeccable sense of timing. One scene always stood out to me for its ability to capture the thing I love most about the film and its leading actor -- the duet between Navin (Martin) and Marie (Bernadette Peters) to the tune of Tonight You Belong to Me.
Like the song, the relationship between man-child Navin and Marie is utterly sweet even though it's so short -- that is until Marie gets back together with Navin after his "successful" business venture (inventing the Opti-Grab). Martin and Peters have chemistry, no doubt attributable to their real-life relationship. The bond between the performers is evident throughout, turning up repeatedly in the glances and interactions between them.
This mixture of broad comedy and subtle romance is handled unusually well in the scene -- there's a perfect balance of sentimentality and humor, something we don't see often enough in comedies where gags tends to sublimate everything else and become redundant. The entire film is a smart exercise in simplicity despite the character being such a "jerk". This scene is just one of many where Martin's philosophical yet absurd approach is so refreshing and unexpected (and random, like the cornet solo). Even his questions ("You will? ... You don't? ... She did? ... She does?") are examples of Martin's ability to find that tricky balance between deliberate and unencumbered, or in this case a question and a statement. The end result is a scene that subverts expectations and feels more honest and romantic than most of the rom-coms being cranked out by the dozens.
Check out the clip after the jump.