Iconic Roles is a look at some of the best performances in film and television by actors and actresses.
Steve Martin is a comedy genius. I’ve long admired the man for his wit, charm, and incredible talents. He’s an actor, writer, producer, stand-up comedian, and musician — an artistic genius. At the ripe age of 77, he’s still creating quality content such as Hulu’s terrific Only Murders in the Building (alongside his pal Martin Short) and the Netflix special An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life (also with Short). Indeed, Martin has remained a powerful force in Hollywood for over four decades, which is really hard to do.
Many of you youngsters may not be hip to Martin’s jam. So, I’ve assembled five essential movies featuring the legendary star demonstrating his comic brilliance. Yes, this list was hard to put together, as Martin’s resume features an abundance of great comedic material, but I did my best.
Harris K. Telemacher in L.A. Story (1991)
Describing Steve Martin’s brand of humor presents a difficult challenge. Is he quirky? Colorful? Silly? Clever? Sharp? Sophisticated? All of the above? These adjectives can apply to the brilliant L.A. Story, Martin’s offbeat love letter to Los Angeles. Here we have a hilarious and thought-provoking film that is both cynical and hopeful; grounded and whimsical. Martin’s screenplay pokes fun at everything LA, from its gridlocked (and violent) freeways, high-priced dining (replete with various flavors of floss), pretentious inhabitants, bizarre social structures, and everlasting magic.
As world-weary meteorologist Harris K. Telemacher, Martin veers sharply from the wild and crazy persona he developed early in his career without mincing on laughs. Harris skates through life (literally) and eventually bumps into a freeway sign that begins instructing him on all things life and love. Think Joe Versus the Volcano, albeit coated with an extra dose of dry satire.
One of Martin’s best and funniest films to date.
Lucky Day in ¡Three Amigos! (1986)
Three Amigos! may only be remembered as a minor comedy classic featuring the blockbuster combo of Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short. Still, if you warm to the goofy antics, there’s plenty of side-splitting hilarity to enjoy in this wild and zany epic.
Directed by John Landis, Three Amigos! follows a trio of silent movie stars who, after a series of miscommunications, get caught up in a real-world situation that pits them against a dangerous Mexican gang. Their journey leads them on a series of madcap adventures where they encounter everything from a mythical singing bush to an invisible swordsman. It’s all fluff, but Martin, Chase, and Short elevate the material to something akin to art.
Roger Cobb in All of Me (1984)
Carl Reiner’s All of Me is such a fantastic motion picture it’s a wonder no one talks about it more often. Steve Martin stars as Roger Cobb, a despairing attorney who finds his world transformed when the soul of a dead woman (played by Lily Tomlin) suddenly takes over his body. Martin utilizes his astonishing knack for physical comedy to great effect and all but carries this silly, albeit sweet-natured slice of old-fashioned entertainment.
Neal Page in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
One of the best buddy movies of all time, Planes, Trains and Automobiles pairs Steve Martin with the great John Candy, and the results are as good as you might expect. Martin stars as uptight advertising executive Neal Page who endures two days of Hell en route to a Thanksgiving feast alongside Candy’s well-meaning, ultimately bumbling Del Griffith. Naturally, the pair bond during their tumultuous journey, leading to a surprisingly emotional conclusion that wraps this one up in a nice holiday bow.
Gil Buckman in Parenthood
My favorite Steve Martin film, Parenthood, posits the star atop an incredible ensemble consisting of Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves, and a very young Joaquin Phoenix. Ron Howard’s dramedy explores the joys and pains of, well, parenthood, and gives Martin plenty of opportunities to display his quick wit (“If she’s so smart, why is she sitting in our neighbor’s car?”) and superb comic timing. He’s aided by the excellent supporting cast, an intelligent script, and Howard’s assured direction, all of which make Parenthood a remarkable (and severely underrated) classic.
Honorable Mention: The Jerk & Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
If that’s not enough, feel free to check out Roxanne, The Man with Two Brains, Bowfinger, and Pennies from Heaven.