Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 122: The Truman Show

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #236
Year: 1998
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Jim Carrey and Laura Linney

It is both surprising and completely unsurprising that I had never seen The Truman Show until last week considering how often TBS runs it. On one hand, it's totally ubiquitous, and logic would dictate that on some channel-surfing Saturday afternoon I would have hit the film and sat through it. On the other hand, though, it is TBS that typically runs it, and considering the quality of most of the other fare they're obsessed with airing – Rush Hour trilogy marathons are commonplace, and they continue to pacify the only audience The Steve Harvey Show and Yes, Dear has left – it's not all that shocking that I didn't think it would be any good. When I saw it on the IMDb Top 250, I was stunned silent. Apparently this mid-'90s Jim Carrey movie that I knew nothing about is actually good. Not Ace Ventura "good," but actually, honest-to-God good. Having finally gotten around to watching it, I agree that it's good, but I take issue with TBS rolling it into their "Very funny" ad campaign, and indeed, with its general classification as a comedy film. It's not one. It's a dark, dystopian drama that happens to have a comedian in the lead role. The comedy that is present is just a byproduct of that casting.

The premise is not one completely unvisited by previous speculative fiction writers. In it, Truman Burbank (Carrey) is a happily married insurance agent living in the picturesque town of Seahaven. What he doesn't suspect until he's thirty is that his life is actually a sham, and that everyone he interacts with on a daily basis is an actor on a television show about his life. He was selected in utero to participate in the world's only 24/7 reality show, and people all over America have become obsessed with watching his life unfold in the thirty years since the day of his birth. Naturally, when Truman realizes something is up, things go haywire. He starts lashing out at his wife, recklessly driving his car in an effort to go somewhere besides Seahaven, and finally overcomes his fear of the water by literally sailing to the edge of the map, where he runs up against the wall that serves as the border of Seahaven's bubble. There he is confronted by Christof, the creator of "The Truman Show." He urges Truman to stay, and when he doesn't say anything, he implores him to say something because he's on television. Knowingly, Truman looks at the camera and says his trademark line – "If I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night," – before leaving Seahaven forever. The individual triumphs against the system, and everyone goes home happy.

Let's revisit my "The Truman Show is not a comedy" theory. The fact that the scene in which Jim Carrey draws an astronaut helmet in the mirror with soap and proceeds to talk to an imagined space station is kind of funny is negated by the fact that all of America can voyeuristically see him doing it. There's other funny moments that are created by the way that Carrey interprets the script, but the reality (or lack thereof) of his life makes them irrelevant in deciding whether the film is a true "comedy." To some degree, it even makes you think too hard for it to be comedy – or at the very least, too hard for it to be farce. Does anyone have thoughts on this? I've never seen this film not listed as a comedy, but after watching I'm having a really hard time figuring out why. Help me out in the comments section.

The Good: Jim Carrey's performance keeps the script from careening too far into pretentiousness. This is something he would fall just shy of accomplishing in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his other classically "good" movie.

The Bad: There's more than a few dystopia cliches in the script, which for the same reasons as Brazil makes me a little wary.

The Skinny: I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I Top 250 enjoyed it.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this in the theaters, and that has been the only time that I've seen it, even though I liked it. Anyways, at the time of its release, no one really considered it a comedy. Everyone was surprised/confused that Jim Carrey was doing something that wasn't a comedy. So, I don't know why they would consider it a comedy now.