Subject: James Eugene Carrey, 48-year-old Canadian-American actor/comedian
Date of Assessment: April 30, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Funny, rubberman, anti-sequel
Negative Buzzwords: High-concept, 23, #BOING
The Case: Let’s get started here with an acknowledgment that I’m not a huge Jim Carrey fan but will admit to enjoying a few of his movies. Ultimately, I can appreciate his rather consistent method of earning a shitload of money at his chosen trade while also sporadically fitting in some indie films, but fully embracing him as an actor is an altogether different matter.
In the 1980s, Carrey appeared in several movies (including Once Bitten across from Lauren Hutton) and television shows, but mainstream audiences never really noticed the comedian until the early 1990s, when he captured an opportunity to show off his obvious flair for extreme physical comedy on “In Living Colour” (a show also credited with launching Fly Girl Jennifer Lopez into temporary stratospheric heights) with disarmingly freakish turns as an aerobics instructor and that stunningly accurate Vanilla Ice parody. After four years on the show, Carrey returned to movies as a leading man.
For a few extended moments, Carrey seemed untouchable with three consecutive films that I like to refer to as his “Idiot Trilogy” — Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber — all relatively low-budget movies that recouped their cost several times over. Whether or not folks would admit this today, audiences simply adored Carrey’s willingness to debase himself though an odd concoction of freakish faces, bizarre voices, and nonsensical catchphrases. Carrey then went on to give a bloody awful performance as The Riddler in (the wholly unredeemable) Batman and Robin and followed up with a stab at black comedy in The Cable Guy, which was much less successful than anticipated, due to a rather menacing (yet mostly ineffective) titular character who threw Carrey’s target audience out of their comfort zone. Smoothly, Carrey recovered with Liar, Liar (which I’m not entirely embarrassed to have thoroughly enjoyed), a movie that coupled a more restrained version of physical comedy with a few heartfelt moments and something that could be considered acting.
From there, Carrey decided that he wanted to be known as “a serious actor,” an effort which hasn’t gone unrecognized. Critics have praised Carrey’s turns within Man on the Moon, The Truman Show, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and audiences have largely embraced this kinder, gentler Carrey as well. Unfortunately, I’ve always been rather uncomfortable watching Serious Carrey (who, for all his efforts, reminds me of Serious Robin Williams) onscreen, and as far as my opinion is concerned, much of Carrey’s concentrated emotion comes off rather awkwardly. While far too many actors are content to stay in their preconceived boxes, Carrey does have some admirable balls for stretching himself artistically, but his reliance upon high-concept movies (both of the comedy and drama variety) fails to convince me that he’s capable of really acting outside of a pre-scripted elucidation of the human condition. I can’t help but wonder whether Carrey chooses high-concept movies because he depends upon the quirkiness and cleverness of the scripted structure or if he’s merely attempting to create a more profound legacy for himself; and if the latter is the case, it’s damn difficult to justify the The Number 23 within the scheme of things. And while I Love You, Phillip Morris may very well be a touching dramedy, it might also just be Carrey’s “Look, I can play gay too!” movie. Regardless of Carrey’s motives for going balls-out, all-high-concept as an actor, it all feels rather disingenuous. Then again, I guess seeing Carrey in a gritty, realistic war film probably wouldn’t go over so well either. So, what’s next for a guy who makes plenty of bank in an era where few actors (or actresses) can make salary demands? Well, Carrey has made a few fine movies and some pretty awful ones too, but he’s always bounced back and will likely continue to do so.
On a more positive note, Carrey has resisted falling prey to the Sequelitis that runs rampant in Hollywood and the like (with one exception, as he was contractually obligated to do the Ace Ventura sequel). Regardless, one could still make the point that several of Carrey’s comedic works are so very similar (with his characters merely exchanging jobs and dilemmas) that they could very well be considered a continuation of the same movie. Most recently, Yes Man felt like a new-age retread of Liar Liar, but that apparently didn’t bother Carrey all that much. What has perpetually eluded Carrey in his career is the highly overrated Oscar nod. If that’s the true underlying explanation for his dramatic aspirations, he just needs to forget about impressing those crackheads at the Academy and leave that sort of stuff to George Clooney.
Prognosis: Most recently, Yes Man failed to impress at the box office relative to its $70 million budget, and Phillip Morris has suffered numerous setbacks on its way to a release date. Perhaps it’s time for Jim Carrey to take an acting break, for he can certainly financially afford to do so. If Carrey gives audiences some time to miss him (instead of trying so hard to impress), perhaps a grand return will one day be inevitable. Until then, Carrey may as well be treading water with the same manuever that Scooby Doo and Shaggy use to run in place. Just stop and have some Scooby Snacks instead, Jim.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.