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The most important thing to note about Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis is that it is not really a documentary about or examination of its central subject, but rather a loving tribute to him. As such, those seeking out more information about the life and career of one of America's most memorable entertainers might fare better looking elsewhere. For those who simply want a feature-length acknowledgement of how talented Lewis is, here you go.
The documentary opens with an impressive gallery of celebrities talking about how much they admire Lewis. "If you don't get Jerry Lewis, you don't get comedy," says Jerry Seinfeld. "I owe him so much," says Steven Spielberg. "If you don't like Jerry Lewis, I'm not interested in being friends with you," says Woody Harrelson. "He blew me away. That's the first time I've ever used that phrase, because I hate that phrase, but he blew me away," says Carl Reiner. On and on it goes, and while it's certainly impressive that the filmmakers were able to gather so many big names (also appearing: Carol Burnett, John Landis, Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer, Quentin Tarantino, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crystal, Chevy Chase and Eddie Murphy), it's hard not to feel that the film's primary endeavor is to make Jerry Lewis feel good about himself. That's all well and good, but it's a film best suited to a tribute dinner.
Despite the fact that the documentary ignores or brushes over any of the more turbulent passages in Lewis' life (his painful break-up with Dean Martin, his health struggles, The Day the Clown Cried, his fall from relevance in the late '60s, etc.), it does occasionally manage to offer a decent argument for the notion that Lewis is an under-appreciated talent. The large gallery of movie and television clips offer a fun demonstration of Lewis' genius in the realm of physical comedy, fully supporting the parallel Quentin Tarantino draws between Lewis and Buster Keaton.
The filmmakers also had plenty of access to Lewis himself, who speaks with wit and charm about his many successes. While it's occasionally a little painful to see Lewis attempting to recreate the glories of the past in his present state (he just doesn't have the dexterity or precision to pull off that magnificent "typewriter" routine anymore—after all, he's well into his 80's at this point), he's still able to toss off a quick ad-lib with the best of them. The most enjoyable sequences of the documentary feature Lewis engaging in playful Q&A sessions with members of the general public, using each question as an opportunity for giggles.
Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis offers a strong DVD transfer, benefitting from excellent detail and depth throughout. Of course, much of the film is comprised of talking head interviews, but the quality is appreciated nonetheless. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is simple but effective, and the quality varies depending on the source material being used. There are no supplements of any sort included.
Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis is perfectly tolerable lightweight fluff. However, a man of Lewis' significance deserves a weightier, deeper examination than this.
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