Film: The Jerk

"Lord loves a working man, don't trust whitey..."
Navin R. Johnson

The Jerk is an American comedy film from 1979. It was Steve Martin's first starring role in a feature film, and was directed by Carl Reiner.

The film follows Navin R. Johnson, a bum, who tells his life story. After finding out that he is not a natural born child of his black parents, Navin decides to leave home and make it for himself in the world. Despite the fact that he is woefully unprepared, Navin manages to land himself a job, escape a decidedly random psychopath, run away with a traveling carnival, find the woman of his dreams (Bernadette Peters), and hit it rich, before finally losing everything and ending up a bum in the street.

Along the way, the film details Navin's interactions with the people and world around him, where his common misunderstandings of every-day situations often lead to hilarious results.

If you're looking for tropes about jerks, see Jerkass and The Jerk Index.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Balls of Steel: Navin makes the mistake of kicking the crotch of "Iron Balls" McGinty.
  • Berserk Button: Navin was raised by a black family and, for much of his life, thought he was black. He takes the N-word very personally.
  • Betty and Veronica
  • Book Ends: The film starts and ends with Navin singing and dancing with his family at home.
  • Chekhov's Gun: After Navin gets his first job, he promises to send some of everything he makes back to his family. Later, once he's homeless, it turns out that he continued sending his family checks after he got rich. They began investing the money and are fairly well off by the end of the movie.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Patty the motorcycle daredevil.
  • Comically Missing the Point: "He hates these cans!"
  • Conspicuous Consumption: The first thing Navin does after finding out how much he really cashed his check for.
    • Partially averted. It doesn't occur to Navin and Marie to move out of their tiny apartment until their live-in butler and maid suggest it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Played for laughs by the ending;
    Navin: How did you find me?
    Father: I dunno. This is the first place we looked.
    • It also turns out that Navin's father is, unexpectedly, a financial wizard who makes millions by investing the funds that Navin was sending home.
  • Creator Cameo: Carl Reiner plays himself leading a class-action suit against Navin.
  • Cucumber Facial
  • Description Cut: Upon discovering his name in the phone-book:
    Navin: Things are gonna start happening to me now!
    [Cut to the Sniper picking names at random out of a phone-book:]
    Sniper: 'Johnson, Navin R.'. Sounds like a typical bastard.
  • Dinner Order Flub: Marie gets the escargot at a fancy restaurant.
    Navin: You would think that in a fancy restaurant at these prices you could keep the snails off the food!
  • Disproportionate Retribution: A throwaway gag has the butler's wife being executed by firing squad for taking too many cash advances on her credit card.
  • Dissimile: In a letter to his parents, Navin describes his girlfriend as looking just like mom, "except she's white and blonde".
  • The Ditz: Navin to extreme levels.
    Navin: You mean I'm gonna stay this color?
  • Doorstop Baby: How Navin wound up with the Johnsons.
  • Downer Ending: Subverted. It seems like the movie would end with Navin languishing alone and forgotten in poverty, until Marie and his adoptive family show up.
  • Exorcist Head: Navin's reaction to the size of the check from Stan Fox.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: CAT JUGGLING!!
  • Freudian Excuse: The Sniper's rampage was prompted by the breakdown of his marriage and the fact that he was quitting smoking.
  • Gag Boobs: Played with (no, not like that, you creep) during the "snails on the food" scene in which Marie is wearing a low-cut dress and looking up in a way that shows off her cleavage.
    Navin: "Two boobs! That's what he takes us for!"
  • Genius Ditz: Navin lacks common sense, but he knows enough about automobiles to make the Opti-Grab.
  • Gilligan Cut: After the newscast with Carl Reiner announcing his plans to sue Navin, Navin assures Marie that they won't lose the lawsuit by saying "We're going to receive a fair trial from an impartial jury." Cut to the cross-eyed judge and jurors ruling in favor of Reiner.
  • Groin Attack: Unfortunately, the recipient is one "Iron Balls" McGinty.
    • Patty playing a little too aggressively with Navin's "special purpose."
  • Hand or Object Underwear: Navin uses dogs.
  • Happily Adopted: There's no question that Navin was very happy with his adoptive family growing up, and that they loved him as deeply as they did any other family member.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Navin's would-be assassin decides to take up a less violent line of work.
  • How We Got Here
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The kind of jerk Navin is.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Part of Navin's charm. As much of a bonehead as he is, for much of the movie he has nothing but the best intentions.
  • Literal Metaphor: Navin literally learns the difference between shit and Shinola.
    • Then, promptly steps in the not-Shinola.
  • Long List: And that's all Navin needs!
    • He actually has several!
  • N-Word Privileges: Played for laughs as Navin beats the crap out of racist developers.
  • Nice Hat: Complete with 3 foot long feather.
  • Oblivious Adoption: Again, Navin was raised by an all black family. He only realizes this when his mother tells him.
    "You mean I'm gonna stay this color?"
  • Overly Long Gag: "I know we've only known each other four weeks and three days, but to me it seems like nine weeks and five days." Navin then proceeds to list every single day he spent with her, explaining how long each of them felt and how they add up.
    • All the things Navin claims are "all [he] needs!".
    • Navin listing all of the incredibly specific (and increasingly absurd) things that he always told his family he wanted to have and has now bought.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: As Navin beats down racist landlords, he says "Sir, you are talking to a nigger!"
  • Rags to Riches: And then back to rags.
  • Road Trip Across The Street: Navin's journey starts by hitchhiking down to the end of the block where his home is.
    Navin: Thanks for the company, I hope I can repay you someday!
  • Shoo the Dog: Averted, as much as Shithead wanted it played straight.
  • Talking Animal: Shithead. Except only Navin can understand him, and even then his translation isn't always accurate.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The tagline was "A rags to riches to rags story." Nonspecific, but that's basically the whole movie.
  • Trophy Wife: Navin's boss (Jackie Mason) brings his hot wife to the garage to explain the importance of keeping the place safe. Without such a lucrative business how could he, of all people, get and keep such a woman? He explains that if anything happened to the business she'd leave him in a second. She nods in agreement.
  • Umbrella Drink: Navin is very partial to them.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Navin's "special purpose".
  • Visual Pun: Navin's family had to tear down their old house, but they built a bigger house in its place. If you look closely, you'll notice that it's the exact same hovel as before, only scaled up about 40%. Hey, he said "bigger," not necessarily "nicer."