Fascinating movie

Joan Rivers made 1 fascinating movie, and it starred Billy Crystal as the world’s first pregnant man


Photo: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

In the general arc of Joan Rivers’ career, her 1978 film Rabbit test, the one and only feature film she has ever directed, is now widely regarded as a minor failure. By the time of the film’s release, Rivers was already a well-known celebrity and a familiar face; she featured prominently in the posters as well as the trailer (although she only appears briefly in the film, as a nurse who drops a colonist in a hospital hallway). But the film failed and was criticized by critics. Later, Rivers rarely mentioned the movie, the story of the world’s first pregnant man, although there is a funny 1986 clip of her. shave Siskel and Ebert about their pans; it was almost a decade after the film’s release, so its failure must have hurt again, at least a little. It is currently unavailable on DVD and hardly ever screened. You can however see it on YouTube:

Rabbit testThe failure of is understandable: it’s pretty much a terrible movie. Directed more like a sitcom than a movie and full of failed jokes that make it seem like they’re waiting for a laugh track to kick in, this is a great example of how ten wisecracks-a -second of the actor did not necessarily translate into a narrative support. Ebert’s current opinion Says it well enough: “Situations are not explored, characters are not developed, timing is ignored, but every 30 seconds there is a potential laugh.” I would add that the movie is also a good example of how Rivers’ own performance and presence added to its jokes: if this movie is missing the most, it’s its loudmouth, its evil energy.

But it’s also a fascinating film and, dare I say it, oddly transgressive in its raw way. The film follows the shy young virgin Lionel (Billy Crystal, in his feature debut starring), who still lives next to his mother, teaches English as a second language to incomprehensible immigrants, and spends evenings with an inflatable doll named Jackie. Taken by his alpha male cousin Danny (Alex Rocco) to an uncrowded USO dance, Lionel is pushed aside by one of the volunteers, a woman who claims to be married and indifferent to love, towering over him in a dark room. Suddenly he experiences morning sickness and feels funny. The “mother” is out of sight and never seen again; instead, Lionel begins a romance with one of his students, a gypsy named Segoynia (Joan Prather).

Lionel’s pregnancy can be explained quite easily and in a surrealist way; basically he had unprotected sex like so many other people before him. (Compare that with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comedy Junior, which involves an elaborate science experiment gone awry.) But, of course, as the world’s first pregnant man, he immediately becomes the center of attention. (His doctor, played by Paul Lynde: “We’re probably going to be asked to do the Johnny Carson Show … And no matter how much they beg, you should never do it with a guest host!”) He meets the President of the United States. States. (“Remember, after the president, the next to smell your stomach has to be the Secretary of Labor.”) He gets a commemorative stamp. He is knighted by the queen and blessed by the pope.

Along the way, Lionel himself begins to believe in his own particularity. “I deserve it,” he smugly said to an increasingly alarmed Segoynie, watching people go mad before him – even though he didn’t do anything to get pregnant and wanted to abort first. the baby. But then the tide turns. Indians point out that if men start having babies, the population explosion will become unmanageable. Soon all the people who stood worshiping Lionel are screaming for his head. The president, a good old God-fearing Texas man, returns to urge her to have an abortion. Lionel goes from feeling like the most important person in the world to feeling like his body doesn’t belong to him anymore – a sharp and poignant character trajectory.

I can go through a whole list of reasons why Rabbit test is ultimately not a successful film. To begin with, it is extremely badly turned and mounted. (It’s hard to believe all of this harsh light came from cinematographer Lucien Ballard, who also shot Stanley Kubrick’s film. The slaughter and that of Sam Peckinpah The wild group.) And while Crystal’s good guy demeanor seems right to Lionel at first, he doesn’t really work enough energy or urgency to help carry us along as the story unfolds. .

But still, Rivers should have been able to take the mulligan back and direct again, because despite all his flat jokes and lackluster cinema, Rabbit test has a wacky little perspective all its own. I’ve only read a few contemporary reviews of the film, but it seems hardly any mention was made that a woman with a relatively rare chance at making a movie in Hollywood chose to make one about a man in Hollywood. gestation. Watching the whole world go mad over a man having a baby – scooping him prizes one minute, chasing him with pitchforks the next – we can feel Rivers’ own bewilderment. You can feel it when you see Lionel receiving an award from the United Nations, as the secretary general, a woman, declares: “All the past progress is derisory compared to what you have accomplished. Next to you, the Moon Walk was doo-doo. We also feel it when Rivers shows us how space-saving pregnancy is for ordinary women: one of Lionel’s ESL students gives birth in the middle of the class.

We even feel it in the final scene of the film, a reconstruction of the Nativity. As Lionel, hiding from the crowd, goes into labor, the camera moves towards the Pole Star, and a thunderous voice on the soundtrack exclaims: “Oh my God, it’s a girl! In other words, even God is complicit in overreacting. But Joan Rivers doesn’t care. “What is the problem ?“you can hear him asking.”He’s just a guy with a baby!”His film is a cosmic joke turned into a teachable moment – a confusing moment, of course, but also revealing of the late comedian’s unique take on the world.


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