Monday, January 09, 2006

Fun with Dick and Jane - A Review

In his first foray into comedy, dramatic actor Jim Carrey (The Cable Guy, The Majestic) shines, demonstrating surprising physical comedy skills and quick-witted facial reactions. Yes, he still displays the somber humanity and empathic gravitas he’s known for. But it’s the laugh-out-loud pratfalls and general all-out goofiness that continually surprise. Who’da thunk it?

The script, by 40-Year-Old Virgin co-writer Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller, moves slowly and that’s to the film’s benefit. As in the 70s original that this film is very loosely based on, Dick (Carrey) and Jane (The Naked Truth's always hilarious Tea Leoni) only steal out out of necessity. The robberies don’t begin until the film’s second half. It might seem that the reasons for Dick and Jane’s crime spree don’t need to be laid out so specifically – Dick loses his job after his company’s Enron-like freefall and pension theft; the resulting local economic collapse forces the family to hold on to their house but sell all their possessions, Jane quits her job, their little son spends so much time with the maid (whom they never fire) that he begins to express himself in amusing ways that I don’t wish to spoil here – but it’s the build-up that provides the laughs. Dick has a stint as a day laborer (funny). Jane becomes a research guinea pig (sort of funny). Dick reclaims his repossessed lawn (funnier than it should be and set to a soundtrack of Rancid’s brilliant and timeless Time Bomb).

It’s Carry who, well, carries the film. As in The Cable Guy, he plays the serious embattled everyman like he invented the role. Why he hasn’t been asked to play Biff (or even Willy) Loman astounds me. But more astonishing is how he dusts off his never-before-used comedic toolbox and wields laughmaking chops we never knew he had.

But this isn’t just a wacky film about unlikely criminals. It’s a love story about a couple that has to sleep in the dirt with swollen mouths to understand the meaning of their commitment and connection. It’s a comedy about the grim economic conditions that many Americans face, the soon-to-bust real estate market that many homeowners have sacrificed themselves to, and the immigrant experience that most people shield their eyes from. As with its thematic predecessor Trading Places, Fun with features an extremely convoluted resolution featuring Billy Baldwin’s rarely seen brother Alec (he may one day outshine his brother) that works well. The sheer preposterousness of this ending is shielded by Leoni and Carrey’s tender love and farcical movements.

Many people will stay away from this film for the apparent similarity to other husband-and-wife crime teams (e.g., the rather lame Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and the presumed miscasting (Carrey in a comedy). I say leave your expectations at the double doors of your local Cineplex and prepare to be surprised!


thingsoncobras said...

First, I'm not going to say that you overrate Tea Leone as a comic actress. I'm just going to say that you underrate every other comic actress when you call her 'always hilarious.'

In all other respects, I completely agree. Carrey has shown flashes of funny before in Eternal Sunshine and Truman Show, but I really thought that Man on the Moon was more a tribute to his acting than comedic skills, channeling Andy Kaufman in the way that Hoffman did Lenny Bruce. Now, at this point in his career, to be the lead in a flat-out comedy? I've got one word for that. Ballsy. Actually, three words. Ballsy ballsy ballsy. I'm happy to hear that he makes the gamble pay off. So often it happens the other way - who can forget Sean Connery's disastrous move into slapstick with Zardoz?

Ali said...

That wasn't Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon. That was Andy Kaufman.