Friday, January 09, 2009

Is Jim Carrey insufferable?: The Court hears the arguments.

For the prosecution, enter the attorney, Sir Poncey Impeccable, Esq.  For the defense, Sr. Olaf "Ace" Ipkiss.  

Mr. Impeccable begins the inquiry by citing the numerous breaches of good taste Mr. Carrey has perpetrated upon the public, to wit: when he "as Ace Ventura, bent over, hands on rump, ventriloquiz[es] through parted butt cheeks," not to mention assorted other indignities, many of them in Dumb and Dumber.

Barrister "Ace" rejoins, protesting that Mr. Carrey's comedic gifts are enormous, and not limited to the physical bravado he displayed even in some of his earliest work on In Living Color as Fire Marshall Bill and that one guy who used to leap across the background in various sketches.  His face is a rare instrument (more laudatory blah blah blah--the pathos of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show, and the amazing range he exhibited in the underrated Farrelly Bros. masterpiece of crassiosity Me, Myself, and Irene.  You get the picture.).

His Majesty of Good Taste Sir Impeccable sniffs that Carrey not only displays chronically poor taste in his choice of roles and in his playing of them, he also exhibits the delusions of grandeur of the actorly parvenu. Exhibit A:  The Riddler in Batman Forever, a piece of overreaching (although Impeccable concedes that the problem there was as much director Joel Schumacher as Jim Carrey); Exhibit B: The Majestic.  

Dragging a big fat red herring across the closely woven argument, Mr. "Ace" shamelessly introduces the claim that Mr. Impeccable would not know a comedy if it bit him in the ass. With spectacular aplomb, he presses further that Impeccable only deigns to laugh when a comedy is both in good taste and when it carries its comic conceits through to an aesthetically sound conclusion, which is to say, he never laughs.  Or perhaps once a quarter century, which is, statistically, never.  

Sir Impeccable spies an argumentative opening, because while his standards for comedy may be high (the claim that he "wouldn't know a comedy if it bit him in the ass" is risible and, moreover, itself in very bad taste, especially in a courtroom, the temple, after all, of justice), Mr. Carrey's work provides many occasions to examine the unfunny comedy.  For example: How the Grinch Stole Christmas.   Bad, bad, bad.  Don't even try to weasel out of that one, Ace.

With great swagger, Mr. Ipkiss draws his big guns--his ace in the hole, as it were--out for the finish, an appreciation published recently in The Atlantic Monthly, "Existential Clown":
Yes Man, out this month, is Carrey’s latest existential parable. If, as has been speculated, Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard shared a libertine moment in the salons and cellars of 19th-century Copenhagen, they could have brainstormed this movie over drinks. Carrey plays Carl Allen, an office drone and cautious Cuthbert who abruptly starts saying “Yes!” to everything—Korean lessons, cans of Red Bull, love, and life itself. This impulsive assent to existence is characteristically presented in the form of a gift/curse, laid upon Carrey, in this case, by a New Age positivity guru played by Terence Stamp. (The tie-in with Red Bull is a brilliant stroke, of course—no other legal product so generously extends the promise of turning you, if only for half an hour, into Jim Carrey.)
Ipkiss continues with an incisive citation from a recent interview with Larry King in which Carrey notes that comedy "helps you transcend whatever state of pain you're in. Now, everybody has a little bit of something going on. So I believe that movies are made by people in pain for people in pain."  Such insight! Such humanity!

Finally, delivering the coup de grace, Ipkiss returns to the Atlantic piece:

Carrey is the single performer at his level who seems as though he’d be as happy in a Samuel Beckett play as in a summer blockbuster. Beckett would have dug him, I think—the wintry Irishman liked his clowns, the more existential the better. Mask-faced Buster Keaton turned down the role of Lucky in a 1956 production of Waiting for Godot, but nine years later Beckett managed to corral him into an almost-silent film called Film. It’s a bleak little work, not unexpectedly—Keaton scurries rodent-like by city walls, his porkpie hat in place but his face scarved and averted, ducking from the glances of passersby and pausing only to take his own pulse. Rare is the Carrey movie that doesn’t feature some comparable scene of evasion or solitary, self-diagnosing crisis.

And what a Lucky he would make! One can see him shuffling, hangdog, compressed, with the rope around his neck, then erupting out of nowhere into Lucky’s famous semi-Pentecostal speech: “… A personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions …” “Mêlée, final vociferations,” wrote Beckett in the stage directions. It’s Carrey in excelsis. Perhaps he could deliver it out of his ass.


In conclusion, Yes Man is pretty darn funny with the plus of Zooey Deschanel; moreover Jim Carrey is a treasure--a treasure which may not be to your exact delight, but a treasure nonetheless.  Says me, Ipkiss, and the historian.  We laughed.


  1. Bravo. Bravo. Very funny. La Lissa and I will see it.

  2. I thinking blogging was invented so that you could entertain me. Seriously.
    Isn't there a version of "Waiting for Godot" with Steve Martin? Or did I imagine that? I saw it in Seattle with a physical comedian in one of the roles and it wasn't good. Played for too many laughs. If Carrey could rein himself in, it might be good. But I'll see Yes, Men.
    And, for the record, I actually liked "Ace Ventura."

  3. My favorite actors are chameleons; ones who can shift into different roles in movies with different moods. Carrey is a chameleon--one who did not become such until his comedic persona was drilled into American's minds. But then, we got Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine, The Number 23... it shocked me in such a pleasant way, now I can't take my eyes off of him.

    He's a gem.



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