Tag Archives: C

ME, MYSELF AND IRENE

Jim Carrey here teams up with the Farrelly brothers for the
first time since they all struck gold with the two-stooges
comedy “Dumb and Dumber” in 1994, but this time around co-star
Jeff Daniels has been jettisoned and the rubber-faced (and
bodied) star takes both roles himself. The conceit of the
script (written a decade ago and now refurbished for today’s
audiences) is that Carrey plays Charlie Baileygates, a mild-
mannered Rhode Island state trooper who, as a result of years
of inordinate meekness, develops an alternate personality, the
randy, aggressive, foul-mouthed Hank. When Charlie fails to
take his (unnamed) medication, Hank takes over and causes all
sorts of mischief–a circumstance that becomes especially
troublesome when Charlie has to go on the road with Irene
(Rene Zellweger), a tart young thing on the run from a passel
of thugs and crooked cops (the reason behind the chase is
all but impenetrable).

The Farrellys specialize in the deliberately tasteless, of
course, so it’s no great surprise that they should make a
serious medical condition little more than a cheap springboard
for slapstick. (People suffering from schizophrenia and their
families have already begun to protest, not without
justification.) If you set aside the insensitivity of the
premise, however (which, after all, is the trademark of the
Farrellys), what’s truly surprising is that even with Carrey’s
obviously committed participation (no pun intended), the
writing-directing team hasn’t managed to use it as the basis
for a picture that’s consistently funny. There are random
laughs, to be sure: Charlie has an uproarious encounter early
on with an antagonistic limo driver (Tony Cox) who just happens
to be a dwarf; a running gag involving a cow that Charlie
tries to put mercifully to sleep is amusing; there’s a charming
turn by Michael Bowman as a sad-sack albino waiter; and the
bad-ass personas of Charlie’s three brilliant but gangsta-
mouthed black sons (I won’t explain how they come to be his
boys) make for a wonderful sendup of conventional expectations (
it helps immeasurably that the trio is played with gusto by
Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee and Jerod Mixon).

But most of the fun is on the periphery–the central characters
are never as engaging as they should be, and the chase plot
proves a frail device that doesn’t succeed in bringing them
together as successfully as in earlier road movies (e.g., “It
Happened One Night”). Carrey literally throws himself into the
dual Charlie/Hank role; he indulges in more face-twisting and
physical comedy than he endured in a full season of “In Living
Color.” It’s to little avail, though. Despite a few good
pratfalls (one down a cliff after being kicked, which results
in a nose injury that’s initially humorous but is dragged on
far too long), much of his slapstick evokes groans rather than
laughs; it’s just too violent and bone-crushing to be all that
funny. As for the characters he’s asked to play, the sweet-
natured Charlie has his moments (especially with his sons), but
his dopiness eventually grows grating. As for Hank, he’s just
too obnoxious to be a person you want to spend much time with,
and the level of gross sexual innuendo and cheap potty humor
associated with him is more revolting than risible. The two
personalities’ struggle for control of Carrey’s body in the
last reel was probably intended to be the comic highlight of
the piece, but it’s far too extended and never reaches the
height of inspired lunacy that the comic achieved in a
considerably shorter span in the mens’ room scene of “Liar,
Liar.” Ultimately, Carrey’s turn here resembles Jerry Lewis’
in the original version of “The Nutty Professor” more than
anything else–and that’s no compliment. It certainly lacks
the hint of comic genius that marked Steve Martin’s similar
effort as a man whose body is half-possessed by a dead woman
in 1984’s “All of Me.”

Matters are made worse by the fact that sparks determinedly
refuse to fly between Carrey and co-star Renee Zellweger. The
two got romantically involved during the filming of the picture,
it seems, but none of their personal chemistry comes across
on the screen. That’s probably because Carrey is busy indulging
in one-man slapstick set-pieces while Zellweger is forced mostly
to stand off to the side and look pouty, her face all scrunched
up as though she were smelling something disagreeable. (In
this case, that’s an attitude more suited to the audience.)
Capable performers like Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins and
Robert Forster are utterly wasted as lawmen, some honest and
others not.

In the final analysis what dooms “Me, Myself and Irene” to
mediocrity is its contrived, mechanical character. The
Farrellys’ previous efforts were deliberately gross and over-
the-top, to be sure, but they all had at their core a certain
innocence, almost sweetness, despite their crudity. This
picture lacks that saving grace. As a result the stream of
sexual vulgarity, toilet humor and nasty slapstick seems
crasser and more calculated than the rude but still almost
naive and so more likable stuff found in “Kingpin” or
“There’s Something About Mary.” Maybe the problem is that the
script is essentially an old idea that shouldn’t have been
resurrected and retooled to meet the expectations of the
Farrellys’ fans; perhaps it was that process that gave “Me,
Myself and Irene” its mostly mean-spirited, occasionally
repugnant and often over-the-edge tone (a sequence toward the
end involving a chicken is a particularly good example of a
gross-out gag that goes too far to be anything but disgusting).
Pushing the envelope is fine, but if you push it too hard and
too leeringly the result can be, as it is here, the cinematic
equivalent of a painful paper cut.

BUTTERFLY (LA LENGUA DE LAS MARIPOSAS)

Like its titular namesake, “Butterfly” (the Spanish moniker
was “La lengua de las mariposas,” which led Miramax originally
to announce the American release under the name “Butterfly
Tongues”) has a delicate beauty about it, but its fragility
becomes its ultimate undoing. Jose Luis Cuerda’s film is
based on several stories by Manuel Rivas, and set in Galicia,
the northwestern corner of Spain, in the period preceding the
outbreak of the civil war undertaken by Franco’s fascists
against the republic in 1936. Essentially it’s a coming-of-age
tale centering on shy, asthmatic Moncho (Manuel Lozano), whose
idyllic life with his tailor father (Gonzalo Uriarte), loving
mother (Uxia Blanco) and older brother Andres (Alexis de los
Santos), as well as his close connection with a brilliant,
progressive teacher (Fernando Fernan Gomez), are shattered by
the onset of conflict.

The picture is reminiscent of previous import successes like
“Life Is Beautiful,” which similarly romanticized the affection
between a young boy and an older man (in that case his
protective father, and here the elderly instructor) and which
also pointed to the calamity wrought on ordinary people by
political repression, but while it’s not quite so heavy-
handed as Roberto Benigni’s absurdly overpraised Oscar winner,
it doesn’t begin to match the subtlety of the best films
concerned with such adult-child relationships (the most recent
of which was surely Walter Salles’ remarkable and touching
“Central Station”). Here, while veteran star Fernan Gomez cuts
an imposing figure as the surprisingly kindly and considerate
professor, the background is portrayed as so exaggeratedly
bucolic and picturesque that it loses most of the realistic
quality necessary for the denouement to have dramatic force
(a like problem infected “Life Is Beautiful,” of course). The
Galician countryside is imagined here as sort of a rustic
paradise filled with colorful locals and joie de vivre. Thus
we’re treated to sequences in which the old teacher takes his
young charges on trips into gleaming, glistening fields
(introducing them to the wonders of the coiled tongues of the
butterflies), and a healthy slice of time is devoted to Alexis’
musical career in a travelling band and his first romantic
attraction to a young mute girl. The idea, of course, is
that all this ethereal delight represents the child’s point
of view, and its perfection only accentuates what’s being
lost when cruelty comes on the stage; but the fact that the
background has been painted in such extravagantly overripe
tones actually lessens the impact of the closing events. As
a parable of fascist brutality, “Butterfly” is drawn in such
broad strokes that it comes across as cloying and manipulative
rather than insightful and honest.

It may also be noted that as the young protagonist, Manuel
Lozano brings less to the film than might have been hoped. He’s
just agreeably ordinary, hardly radiating the special charm and
distinction such a role really requires in a child actor. The
other players, with the exception of de los Santos, who gives
Andres a sly likability, are almost immediately forgettable.

There are some lovely individual moments in “Butterfly,”
accentuated by the adept cinematography of Javier Salmones.
But as a whole the film is too predictable to make much of an
impression, and too obvious to touch the heart as deeply as
it clearly aims to do.