If Tracy Ullman is Carol Burnette with spice, then Sandra Bernhard is Tracy Ullman gone sour. Sandra exhibits a lot of talent in this one-woman show, which is a screen adaptation of the off-Broadway hit by the same name, set in the Parisian Room, a now-defunct black jazz night club. However, her talent is overshadowed by a cynical, nihilistic worldview. There’s no plot or story line, just a stand-up act interwoven with Sandra’s manager (Lu Leonard) and actor-friend (Steve Antin) telling tales about this highly successful, egotistical New York comedienne who goes back to Los Angeles, the place where she started her career, to work the clubs and get her feet back on the ground.
Within this framework, Bernhard plies her shtick, vacillating aimlessly between bar fly rhetoric, social issues and childhood-adolescent recollections. Satiric monologues, from routines about a Jewish girl’s fantasy Gentile childhood to an Andy Warhol auction, are punctuated by even more satiric songs that are done in the manner of great American singers.
Watching her, one can almost believe she is Diana Ross or Barbara Streissand, except the words are laced with bitterness. We hear “Little Red Corvette”, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, “I Never Meant to Hurt You”, and “A House Is Not a Home” as she cuts to the roots of every value and proclaims her rebellious message. Some of this is extraordinarily funny, very little is blasphemous, but most of her monologue is preoccupied with sex. One song proclaims that sex is the life-beat that keeps the world turning. In “Little Red Corvette”, she brazenly dances nude in a sequined American flag G-string.
Why does Bernhard use a black jazz milieu as a paradigm of hip for the movie? “I thought it was an interesting metaphor of being on the outside, showing how much blacks have influenced white culture,” she says. This may be a metaphor that has meaning to the film makers, but for the most part it leaves audiences collectively scratching their head. Furthermore, if black is hip, the black audience plainly doesn’t understand Bernhard; they are bored and eventually filter out to leave her alone on stage. Even the stoned emcee can’t remember her name (he keeps calling her “Sarah Bernhardt”).
In interviews, Sandra has discussed the horrors of her childhood. She has brought these horrors to life on stage to entertain and attack trendy audiences with her sarcastic, nihilistic world view. The audience seemed to enjoy this, but it would have been a lot more rewarding if she had accepted Jesus Christ. Bernhard may still be searching, as she went to Israel after high school to live in a kibbutz for eight months. However, at 35, she is still part of a generation that has grown up without heroes and looks to her own success to fill the gap.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please pray for this misguided woman, Sandra Bernhard.
Profanities and obscenities; nudity and sexual lewdness; and, lesbianism and homosexuality