With this film, Scorsese and De Niro have struck a perfect balance : on the one hand, De Niro builds up Rupert Pupkin as a totally convincing three dimensional character; on the other, Scorsese never romanticises or gloryfies him, always keeping him in check. Scorsese is just as scathing about his main character as he is with just about everyone else in the film. The effect of this is that we understand Rupert's plight, we sympathise, and in a bizarre way, we want him to succeed. Yet at the same time, we realise that he's actually quite pathetic (in the true sense of the word). He's a man who wants to go straight to the top without working for it. This film is as much a comment on the system that allows (talentless) people to do this in the entertainment business as it is about this individual. Jerry Lewis is superb as Jerry Langford, the King of Comedy ousted by De Niro's Pretender to the Throne. One of the best stylistic devices in this film are the trips we take into Rupert's mind : a place where he regularly meets Jerry Langford, gets told how brilliant his material is, and is told to spend the weekend at Langford's country house. It is this huge difference between the fantasy world in Rupert's head and the reality of his life (he's lonely, an egotist, he still lives with his mother, his friends are mainly autograph hunters and to top it off, he's actually not that funny), it is these things that make you realise about half way through the film that the man is insane.
And yet he succeeds. At the end of the film he gets his fifteen minutes of fame. And that's all that counts. As Rupert himself says "Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime!" Somehow we all know that, ironically, the reverse is true. A wondeful movie, a great performance by De Niro - playing against type - who makes Rupert Pupkin one of the quirkiest and most interesting movie characters of the last twenty years.