A controversial victory lap for Lewis at Cannes
Comedian Jerry Lewis poses for portraits at the 66th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Friday, May 24, 2013. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
CANNES, France (AP) — Jerry Lewis, so beloved in France, isn't quite overcome with emotion now that he's back at the Cannes Film Festival.
The festival, he says, is "for snobs," and when he meets a reporter from his native land, he exhales, "It's so nice to hear an American." To him, Cannes isn't an epicenter of rabid Lewis fandom, it's simply "business," he says, chomping on gum.
And at 87, Lewis is back in business. Nearly two decades since his last film, he's at Cannes with "Max Rose," a modest independent film in which he stars as an elderly man reconciling himself to life without his late wife.
"I'm very happy to relax and stay home with my family, and if something comes up, I'll consider it," Lewis, in an interview, said of his return to movies. "That's the nice part about 87. You just tell people: Oh, you're very tired."
At Cannes, Lewis has been anything but tired, both burnishing and tarnishing his legacy as a brilliant comedic performer. His Cannes tribute — the festival paid "homage" to him in an out-of-competition screening of "Max Rose," as well as with a screening of his 1961 classic "The Ladies Man" — has been overshadowed by his views about female comedians.
In a press conference, Lewis told reporters that his earlier-stated feelings haven't changed in recent years: Comedy isn't for women, he claims. A day after his comments roiled women across the Internet, Lewis wasn't apologetic, saying he sees females as mothers, not stand-ups.
From left, Michel Legrand, comedian Jerry Lewis and actor Kevin Pollak arrive for the screening of Nebraska at the 66th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
"It's the truth. I can't help it," Lewis says, shrugging. "Women, it's just wrong. I don't care that the audience laughs at it and likes it. I don't happen to like it. I have too much respect for the gender. And I think that they are wrong in doing it. I can't expect them to stop working, but just don't work anywhere where I have to look at it."
It's a clearly out-of-date attitude that has turned many away from Lewis. In Cannes, "Max Rose" didn't help his reputation. The film, by first-time filmmaker Daniel Noah, drew terrible reviews at the festival. Variety said only "the most irrationally charitable of Lewis' fans" will appreciate it.
But such opinions mean little to Lewis. He made the film with Noah purely because he liked the script — the best he's ever read, he says. It's the rare film to tell a story about the struggles of growing older, featuring a downbeat performance from Lewis far from the elastic farce his fans are accustomed to seeing.