The Truman Show
(US 1998)

Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Harry Shearer, Natascha McElhone

Director: Peter Weir

Writing credits: Andrew Niccol

Paramount Pictures * 102 minutes

Count me not among the minions of Jim Carrey admirers, or at least not among those who regard his most successful work as comic genius. Yet each time I have seen Carrey interviewed, two words come to mind: Mad Genius. For Carrey is represented of the great comic tradition of humor as a coping device for rage and disappointment. For about 10 minutes in THE MASK, we also had a glimpse that there just might be an actor lurking behind that rubbery body and hundreds of teeth.

While he does not completely transcend his Tex Avery cartoon goofiness in Peter Weir's much-hyped THE TRUMAN SHOW, Carrey proves that I was right, that there has been a complex actor living in Fire Marshal Bill's body, screaming to get out. THE TRUMAN SHOW, perhaps the scariest movie in years, is one of those mind-blowing multiple-reality concepts that seems more original than it is: A man lives in a completely manufactured world, in which everyone he knows -- his family, friends, co-workers, even his spouse, are actors. Carrey is Truman Burbank, who lives a caricature of a 1950's sitcom-dad's life (without children -- the acting job as Truman's spouse obviously has some limits), incorporating the cardigan sweaters, weekend lawn work in goofy clothes, and insurance-sales job. Yet unbeknownst to him, everyone around him is an actor in his story. Wives nothing... Seahaven, where Truman lives, is a Stepford town.

Truman is a pleasant, ordinary guy -- a character that ten years ago would have been played by Tom Hanks in his Jimmy Stewart period. Carrey would seem an unlikely choice for the role, but given his well-known admiration for Stewart, it is understandable that he would reduce his fee to play this role. I am gratified that I was right...this human cartoon can act, and is capable of portraying real, touching emotion. His scenes of Truman attempting to re-construct (using facial features torn from fashion magazines) the face of lost love Lauren (played by an enormous pair of expressive eyes attached to an actress named Natasche McElhone) are gut-wrenching. (Regarding McElhone...Truman could have just purchased a couple of recent issues of Movieline and Ladies Home Journal, as her face contains elements of both Kate Winslet and Jane Seymour). Throughout the film, Carrey struggles mightily to appear "normal", and largely succeeds, as long as he doesn't smile or move. However, once that huge, face-wide mouth of teeth appears, and that boneless, jointless body begins to move, he still tends to relapse into Creeping Carreyism, which often is a jolting contrast to the earnest Truman, trying to understand what's going on around him, as be begins to realize that something is terribly strange, and terribly wrong, with his life.

The supporting performances are excellent, particularly Ed Harris as Christof, the director and producer of "The Truman Show" that is the center of THE TRUMAN SHOW. Decked out as Otto Preminger by way of Keir Dullea, he is terrifying as we realize how much he believes in his God-like power as Truman's creator and protector. Laura Linney, crisp and creepily efficient as the prosecuror in PRIMAL FEAR, is again crisp and creepily efficient as Truman's sharp-featured, blonde, perfect TV-commercial wife who speaks in product promotions. Recognizing that the woman in this "marriage" is an actress, who falls apart when Truman begins to deviate from the "script", is one of the scarier aspects of the story.

While the last 20 minutes of the film are a bit heavy-handed, and the ending somewhat anticlimactic and unsatisfying, Weir and Carrey have created a film that combines character, plot, script, and excellent performances into the most satisfying moviegoing experience yet this year. While I do not believe that Truman is the revelatory breakthrough role that Carrey had hoped, it certainly establishes him as more than a Gumby who talks out of his ass.

- Jill Cozzi

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