As a Canadian, I often consider it my patriotic duty to blindly support our Canadian talent. It's only natural, right? When they pack their bags and fly south to New York City or Los Angeles, I sadly wave and wish them the best of luck. Another one lost to Tinseltown.
This frequently taken voyage, which I like to call The Exodus of Talent, irks me every time, but I accept it as an inevitability in the industry. Based on my age (33), you'd think it would hit home most for actors like Ryan Gosling, but the truth is I was most struck when Jim Carrey took off for Hollywood two decades ago.
Carrey was a staple in my household right from the beginning. No, not the beginning you're thinking of. This was pre-In Living Color superfame, when he did a stand-up routine called The Un-Natural Act in 1991, and it was broadcast as an hour-long special in Canada. To say that I've watched it in its entirety over 50 times is probably an understatement. Years later, I can still recite entire segments. Even better still, the routine itself holds up. Yep, even in 2013, jokes about your grandparents eating sandwiches still resonate.
This is something I've always marvelled at about Carrey: his physical comedy and delivery seem innate. Charisma cannot be bought, and Carrey has it in spades. He's also so polarizing -- the very characteristics I just described annoy others to the nth degree. There's no "on the fence." You either love him or hate him.
In his latest role as Steve Gray (think a more demented Criss Angel) in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, I saw little glimmers of the old Carrey. Even though I consider myself one of the biggest Carrey apologists out there, I can admit that over the past few years his performances have been slipping (Mr. Popper's Penguins, Yes Man, The Number 23). But for the 20 minutes or so of Carrey screen time in Wonderstone, I was taken back to his glory days of Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber, when just the simplest upturn of his mouth would make me howl. That's not to say Steve Gray is his best role (by any stretch), but it's an improvement. How can you shoot down a man who can deliver lines with one of his eyes completely crossed (only one!) and while slurring his speech? He makes it look so easy.
Maybe that's part of the problem, too. When he first started out on In Living Color and with movies like Ace and Dumb, his schtick was new, exciting and funny. Audiences had never seen such an elastic face, and his type of physical comedy was rare. But after The Mask (which was still a resounding success), people got bored. He was so good at one particular thing that it got stale. So he did what any actor would do: try something completely different.
On the whole, his venture into drama and more "serious" roles didn't really pan out -- with the exception of The Truman Show (of course) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His turn in Man on the Moon was commendable as well, but the tragic nature of Andy Kaufman's story didn't translate into box-office dollars. Carrey ended up doing a lot of kids' movie roles and doing some voice work; if you think about it, he's perfectly suited for a child audience. Not critical and easily appeased by slapstick, physical humour, kids eat up his performances.
That's what struck me watching Burt Wonderstone: while Carrey's Steve Gray character is the last person to pander to children, there's a scene with a magician (Steve Carell) entertaining some kids at a birthday party. They hang on his every word, laugh at his D-jokes and their mouths drop when he pulls a coin out from behind their ears. This is how we reacted to Carrey at the beginning of his career, and now he's lost some of that magic.
Despite all of the flops and near-misses since his promising beginnings, seeing him again in Burt Wonderstone reignited my faith in Carrey. He's not playing the clown anymore, but he's also not playing it wholly straight, either. There was a little bit of both, and finally, he doesn't play the goofy guy with a heart of gold. Instead, he's a straight-up asshole with a penchant for pain. So maybe that's the key, then: he needs to find that happy medium in between silly and serious.
He made me laugh too, which felt good. I hadn't laughed with him in a while.
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