PG | 1h 43min | Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi | 5 June 1998 (USA)
I’ve never been a huge fan of exaggerated or outrageous forms of comedy, not even of the screwball variety that was so popular in the 1930s and ’40s. I feel that if something is funny enough, it should be able to stand on its own and be subtle in its delivery, instead of relying on showy or overblown antics.
Therefore, while I have enjoyed watching Jim Carrey in some of his dramatic roles, such as the character Tim Carter in 1992’s TV drama “Doing Time on Maple Drive,” I was never fond of his outlandish films: “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994), “The Mask” (also 1994), or the absolutely dreadful (in my opinion) “The Cable Guy” (1996).
However, there is another thought-provoking drama that Carrey starred in, “The Truman Show,” which was produced in 1998. Penned by the gifted writer and filmmaker Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”), this film is that rare high-concept effort that came out of Hollywood and actually succeeded.
Much of that success comes from the unusual pairing of visionary director Peter Weir and Carrey, who toned down his normally over-the-top comedic antics and cranked the drama dial up to 10.
Similar in timbre to 1993’s comedy-romance “Groundhog Day” (which starred Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell), this film is about a man whose entire life has been one big reality show—literally. Although, on one hand, it can be viewed as a scathing indictment of the lengths to which media conglomerates will go in order to sell a television program, it also delves a little deeper into the meaning of what is real and what isn’t, and who controls our “reality.”
And if there’s a film director with the cinematic chops to pull off lofty ambitions, Weir is just the person to deliver the goods. After all, he brought us the excellent life-changing drama “Fearless” (1993), as well as one of the greatest swashbuckling adventures I’ve ever seen, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003).
Carrey stars as the titular character, an insurance salesman named Truman Burbank. Truman’s entire life has been one big fabrication called … you guessed it: “The Truman Show.” In order to keep the whole hoax going through the years, hundreds of actors have been in and out of Truman’s life, with some, of course, such as his wife, Meryl (Laura Linney), playing more prominent roles than others.
During this grand experiment (and incredible invasion of one human being’s privacy), thousands of cameras have been placed at key spots on each of the show’s elaborate and vast sets. Not surprisingly, throughout Truman’s life, there have been some pretty close calls as far as his almost discovering the monumental charade.
The film also touches on the lives of some of the other characters, such as former “Truman Show” cast member Lauren (Natascha McElhone), his parents (Holland Taylor and Brian Delate), and the person who considers himself to be Truman’s real father, deep-thinking showrunner Christof (Ed Harris).
Speaking of deep thoughts, the film’s snappy writing keeps things moving at a pretty steady pace during its entire one-hour, 43-minute runtime. Therefore, one never feels bogged down by its more existential questions for long.
Meanwhile, Weir’s incredible directing skills and the solid acting performances by the cast make the lives of the characters seem believable (even if most of them are playing thespian con artists).
Since January is a great month for contemplation, “The Truman Show” is an enticing and thought-provoking tool to that end. It’s a fascinating exploration of the nature of invasive technology, celebrity-obsessed culture, and the lengths to which the media will go to deliver a product for ever-increasing ratings. Accomplishing all of these elements without coming off as preachy or overly moralizing is a testament to the efforts of the incredible cast and crew.
‘The Truman Show’
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Release Date: June 5, 1998 (USA)
Rated: 4 stars out of 5