It was recently announced that the American Film Institute are to bestow upon Steve Martin the highest honour – a Lifetime Achievement Award.
No one can argue with the actor’s massive influence on stand-up comedy that still lives on today, or his admirable risk-taking streak such as taking a dip into the music industry.
But can it be argued that he doesn’t actually warrant a Lifetime Achievement Award?
It’s a controversial notion due to the actor’s ‘legend’ status in Hollywood. Over the years he has clearly made a lot of influential A-List friends and even hosted the Oscars, but when was the last time he was actually A-List? It could be argued he was never A-List.
Sure, Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a bona-fide classic; one of the greatest comedy movies of all time without question. The movie is hilarious but also touching, showcasing Martin’s capabilities in dramatic acting as well as slapstick.
In fact, the late 70s and 80s gave us a few other favourable Steve Martin comedies – The Jerk and The Man With Two Brains to name the main two. The problem is even during this heyday of Martin’s comedic talents, neither of these films, or any others for that matter, could match Planes even slightly. Furthermore, a look down Martin’s resume will show that his entire filmic comedy career has pretty much hinged on the everlasting success of the much-loved road trip movie, also starring the late John Candy.
Since the 80s it has been a sorry affair for the Texan. The 90s and 00s are a cauldron of throwaway, cheap films that can barely be classed as comedy. Although there is a shining but weak light in the form of Father of the Bride with Diane Keaton, the majority is made up of Cheaper By The Dozen(s) and Pink Panther(s).
He took admirable flaps at more mature roles in his self-penned Shopgirl starring a pre-Homeland Claire Danes, as well as Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicated which can barely count. Peppered amidst these flops are typically thin bit-part or supporting performances such as in the likes of the entirely forgettable Baby Mama.
So just what has Steve Martin achieved in his lifetime in the movies to warrant a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute? Sure, he has a lifetime of achievement in stand-up or sketch comedy, and he can be proud of his later work in music, but by the looks of it his film career seems to be a lifetime of mediocrity and often failure.
‘Steve Martin is a national treasure whose work has stuck with us like an arrow in the head.’ – Sir Howard Stringer, chair of the AFI’s board of trustees
It makes you wonder why the AFI chose Martin for the award, and not an actor, comedic or otherwise, who devoted their life to acting and contributed consistently to the famed Hollywood canon, rather than treating it as a lucrative side job.