Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: "Fun with Dick and Jane is Timely and Timeless" (Happy B'day, Jim Carrey)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 189 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)
Running time: 90 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for brief language, some sexual humor, and occasional drug references
DIRECTOR: Dean Parisot
WRITERS: Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller, and Peter Tolan; from a story by Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller, and Gerald Gaiser (based upon the novel by Gerald Gaiser)
PRODUCERS: Jim Carrey and Brian Grazer
EDITOR: Don Zimmerman

COMEDY/CRIME with elements of historical

Starring: Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, Alec Baldwin, Richard Jenkins, Gloria Garayua, John Michael Higgins, Jeff Garlin, and Angie Harmon

In Fun with Dick and Jane, an upper middle class couple finds themselves unemployed and broke, even though they always played by the rules to reach their American dream. Desperate, they finally turn to crime to pay the bills.

It’s America, circa 2000. Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) and his wife Jane (Téa Leoni) have a lovely son, Billy, a Latino housekeeper named Blanca (Gloria Garayua) to take care of him, and a fancy two-story home in a swanky neighborhood. After waiting 15 years for that big promotion, Dick becomes Vice-President of Communications at Globodyne, a media consolidation company. This new prestige position allows Jane to quit her horrible job at a travel agency and become a stay-at-home mom.

But the American Dream is about to become a nightmare. Globodyne goes belly up in an Enron-style meltdown, and Globodyne CEO Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin) leaves his new VP of Communications holding the bag. After months of ceaseless job searching, Dick can’t find another company to give him an executive job. Eventually, because the bank is about to foreclose on his home, he has to take any job he can find, which includes working as a greeter at a giant box store, a Wal-Mart type place named KostMart. Jane even bluffs her way into a job as a Tae Bo instructor.

Neither is good at their new jobs, so Dick, at his wit’s end, suggests that he and Jane start pulling off nighttime robberies. The screwball Bonnie and Clyde eventually have a chance encounter with former Globodyne CFO Frank Bascom (Richard Jenkins), who tells Dick that Jack McCallister siphoned off 400 million dollars from the company before it collapsed. Dick, Jane, and Frank promptly launch a plot to steal Jack’s ill-gotten gains, just as he stole them from Globodyne.

Fun with Dick and Jane is a remake of a 1977 film starring George Segal and Jane Fonda as an upwardly mobile couple who find themselves unemployed and in debt and turn to armed robbery to alleviate their problems. While the original film took place in the post-Nixon malaise of the late mid-1970’s, the new film starring Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni takes place at the turn of the century when the communications and Internet boom of the go-go 90’s hit an awful Wall Street bump and many people found themselves unemployed, in deep debt with mortgage companies, credit card companies, and sometimes the IRS – not to mention having much of their savings and/or personal worth died up in worthless stocks.

The current version actually looks at the Dick and Jane Harper’s situation from two angles. The first is to view the Harper’s disintegration as a satirical comment on materialism. The audience can certainly sympathize with the couple, but at the same time, the Harpers are largely responsible for their situation. They mortgaged their future for an expensive car (a Mercedes), a big home in a “good” neighborhood (the kind where the residents play “keeping up with the Joneses”), and a house full of expensive trinkets, accessories, appliances, and toys, such as a plasma screen TV. Their fall is not only poignant, but it is also quite real. This isn’t some idealized financial fall; people who go deeply into debt for the American dream often fall so low as too literally have nothing – to go from being executives to working lower paying service jobs. In the hands of the capable Jim Carrey and the surprisingly nimble Téa Leoni, the kind of financial “hardship” is actually quite funny to watch.

The second angle or second half of this film is purely a comic caper. Fun with Dick and Jane becomes a screwball, revenge film in which the Harpers gleefully rob various businesses. They even rob an executive (who made fun of Dick) of cash and expensive home furnishings. When Dick plots his revenge against Jack McCallister, the film goes overboard in asking us to suspend disbelief. However, Carrey and company give us such madcap antics that we can forgive the script’s more ridiculous notions.

Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) juggles satire with slapstick and pratfalls. He makes an even smarter move by giving Jim Carrey all the space he needs to roam. Carrey is the ultimate class clown, but he is also the consummate actor. Some may not give him enough credit for all that he can do, but in Fun with Dick and Jane, there is both pathos and farce in his performance. Like many of his performances, here, he realizes both the comic horror and monotonous drama of life. He is droll one second, wickedly funny the next, and miserable just a few second after that.

Téa Leoni may never convince anyone that she is a great actress, but she is a superbly capable co-star. Few actors, either male or female, can keep up with Carrey. She does that and brings her character to meaningful life. Too often, actresses allow their characters to be loose appendages to the big male star’s role. Leoni doesn’t go for that, making us believe that this is Jane Harper’s story, too.

Also good in smaller roles are Alec Baldwin and Richard Jenkins. Baldwin does a tart turn as the consummate Southern-born and bred businessman who uses his employees like slaves and then steals their wages. Jenkins is like a gleeful child as Richard Bascom, making the most of his screen time.

I liked the screenplay’s good mix of social satire and ludicrous comedy, though I regret that the entire film couldn’t be a satire. As fun as the revenge portion was, Fun with Dick and Jane was on the way to being an outstanding and dead-on commentary on corporate greed and crass materialism. Still, I enjoyed watching Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, and their supporting cast make chaotic and zany comedy out of the material they had.

7 of 10

Saturday, December 24, 2005


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