Lenny, directed by Bob Fosse, is a biopic that looks at the life of Lenny Bruce (Dustin Hoffman), the most controversial comic of the 1960s. The film follows Lenny's as he goes from struggling stand-up comic to underground sensation. We see the ups and downs of his marriage to Honey (Valerie Perrine), a stripper, including their battle with addiction. Yet his marriage to Honey was the least of Bruce’s problems. As Lenny became more popular, the vulgarity he used in his shows became more scrutinized. This resulted in Lenny constantly being arrested on indecency charges. The numerous arrests not only started to damage Lenny’s professional career, but his mental state as well.
Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Lenny Bruce, he brings a rogue-like charm to the role while never losing site of Bruce's humanity. Several of the best scenes in the movie are not Lenny's stand-up routines, which are great, but his interactions with his wife Honey. As Honey spirals out of control, we are constantly aware of the confliction growing inside Lenny. Bruce knows that she is bad news for both of them, yet he is responsible for making her the way she is. The fact that Hoffman and Perrine have great chemistry together only heightens the turbulent marriage on screen.
If the relationship between Lenny and Honey was not gripping enough, Fosse nicely juxtaposes Lenny’s stand-up routine with many key moments in Bruce’s life. Fosse slowly shows how the many court battles started to alter Lenny. Not only did Bruce’s jokes, and observations, become increasingly political; but the stress of the legal woes impacts his overall mental state as well. One of the most gut-wrenching moments comes when Lenny, who can no longer find work to pay his legal fees, is begging to be thrown in jail but the judge refuses.
It is fascinating watching Lenny in this day and age. Many of the things that Lenny Bruce got arrested for saying are considered tame by today's standards. The film is not just a reminder of how far society has changed in the last fifty years; but also, how much we take freedom of speech for granted. Through his tribulations Lenny Bruce inadvertently became one of the important pioneers of the free speech movement in the sixties. It was a burden that he did not want, but ultimately ended up carrying all the way to his grave. Without Lenny Bruce there would not be the likes of Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Judd Apatow, etc. Heck, we probably would not even have Youtube or blogs. If you are looking for a movie to get you ready for Sunday’s Academy Award show, Lenny might be the film for you.