Smart and Smarter | The Nation


Smart and Smarter

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In Me, Myself & Irene, Jim Carrey bullies a series of small children, gets into senseless fights (on the grounds that "he started it") and reverts hungrily to breast-feeding. This is how he behaves as a tough guy. As a mild-mannered pushover--the other half of his dual role--he shoots a cow execution-style.

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Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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We're told that the "gentle" Jim (here playing a Rhode Island state trooper named Charlie) has suppressed his emotions for so long that his anger has taken on a name of its own--Hank--and can now commandeer his body. But to judge from the evidence before us, this hidden self, when he emerges, is just a big baby. It's the nice guy who's dangerous.

This story, like Hank himself, only recently crawled into the light. The script for Me, Myself & Irene, by Peter Farrelly, Mike Cerrone and Bobby Farrelly, was written in 1990 and left to mature in a drawer. There it lay while the Farrelly brothers made their first picture with Carrey, the 1994 hit Dumb and Dumber--a movie that was pretty smart about subjects such as the injuries of class, and that was pretty thoroughly trashed by people who felt too superior to bother seeing it. Following Dumb and Dumber came Kingpin and then, in 1998, There's Something About Mary, after which even the deepest drawer in the Farrellys' house was free to pop open.

The Farrellys and Cerrone may have updated their old script, but the movie comes before us still clinging to the virtues (and in some cases faults) of youth. It's a friendly, gangly picture that seems tremendously impressed to find itself on the screen. At times, you expect it to look back over its shoulder, as if it suspected the audience might be watching another film standing right behind. Like many an ingenuous young man, Me, Myself & Irene believes that fresh-faced young women possess an innate power that allows them to save any man who's lucky enough to draw near. Hence the presence of Renée Zellweger, than whose face none is fresher. Her powers do not, however, overrule the laws of corny chase sequences, with which the movie, like many a young man, is in love. There's some tedious last-reel rescuing, the responsibility for which falls to Carrey.

But that's as much bumptiousness as you'll need to excuse. The rest of Me, Myself & Irene is all goofy good cheer and open-air improbability, set along the Rhode Island coast, on the wooded roads of New York State and across the ever-changing landscape of Carrey's face.

You should know that Charlie, who is Carrey's primary persona, loses his pert blond wife at the start of the movie but as recompense gains three wonderful sons, who somehow happen to be huge and black. The boys, who are 18 at the time of the main action and rather more sexually advanced than their father, are played by Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee and Jerod Mixon as sweet-natured, dozens-playing whiz-kids. ("Man, you so dumb, you think 'polypeptide' is a toothpaste!") Eventually, the sons discover a surrogate brother in an albino called Whitey (Michael Bowman), thereby scrambling beyond repair our national obsession with melanin.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Everything's cozy and "normal" at first--Charlie zooming around on his state trooper's motorbike during working hours, and at night getting suffocated between his sons on the living-room sofa, as the whole family enjoys a Chris Rock special on TV. Then comes the day when Charlie will be suffocated no more. What the sons do to him puppyishly, the rest of the world does with malice and contempt, knowing Charlie to be too skinny, too squeezable, to fight back. He'll just smile and try to fold himself up even smaller, no matter the insult--until the day someone casually cuts ahead of him in the supermarket line.

How can I describe the transformation of Carrey's face at this moment, as he changes from Charlie to Hank? How...how can I... can the...describe...the deform moment... Carrey changes from Charlie to Hank? In close-up, in a single take, with an acceleration of twitches followed by a sudden softening into tranquillity, Carrey reproduces John Barrymore's legendary metamorphosis in plain sight in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with the added subtlety of regressing not to an apelike state but to childhood.

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