I need to start this review differently. The movie that started me doing this review bit, the movie that made me sit down and say, “please trust me, see this movie even if you don’t want to,” was Liar Liar. March 23, 1997, I implored a couple dozen friends to see Jim Carrey in a way they may not have before, and I still hold that it is the best textbook movie to see Jim Carrey do what he is famous for without it distracting from the movie – indeed, every movement serves the film’s premise. Now, having seen the Truman Show, I again reach out to my gentle readers (125 email subscribers and 2 websites) and say, please, give Jim a chance. I know it’s a good movie when I want to write a term paper on it – and I’m not in school!
Unless you have been under a rock, you have seen all the expectation-raising hype surrounding this, the “film of the year,” and you have probably heard that it is a departure from Carrey’s usual broad comedy. My expectations were high – “Dazzle me now!” I thought, as I took my seat. At a sparse 100 minutes, The Truman show had to cram a lot in to be “movie of the year.” I, personally, was not disappointed. The conceit of the movie is that 30-yr. old Truman Burbank (Carrey) has been, unbeknownst to him, the star of a live worldwide broadcast of his life from before he was born. Everything around him is fiction and the show’s creator/producer/director, Christof (Ed Harris) makes it all happen. Ed is great, end of story.
I already know some people are saying, “Well, look how Jim is acting, he’s all game-show hosty.” Nature vs. Nurture here. Someone raised by people who auditioned to be his acquaintances, who push him into poses for product placement and constantly play to cameras unseen by him, that someone is going to have a showy flair about him because he will have been supported in that kind of telegenic behavior. Surrounded by a fakeness masquerading as real, Truman will be reality (all he knows, all any of us know, is our own perception of reality) unwittingly masquerading as show business. The concept is intriguing, and it brings up lots of big and little what-ifs: How do you deal with his sexual partners, since they are acting and he is really feeling? What if he wants to take a trip? What if he talks to the wrong person, someone who’s not SAG-eligible? Lots of questions have been popping in my head as I eagerly anticipated the show. A great majority of them were answered – yet there is no patness to the film, no bland flat set up and knock down of information.
The screenplay, which, did I mention, I love, is by Andrew Niccol, who wrote another script I love, Gattaca. Peter Weir, director of The Year of Living Dangerously and Witness, is no stranger to humanity and the sort of meta-life that people who are not what they seem have to live. The people in Truman’s life live there full time, but it’s a job. They are on stage 24 hrs a day, and Truman is just living his life. Eventually, the seams were bound to crack a little, and so they do. It’s really grand. The grand scope alone of this kind of production (leading in the ratings the world over – hopefully with a time delay in Japan so they don’t just watch him sleep all day) is fascinating, and totally beautifully executed. I just jotted down items I didn’t want to forget, like a Free Truman rally (out in the Real World). This movie is COOL. Even moments of personal reflection are opportunities to dissolve to flashback footage. Mmmm!
A personal rant: The production design on this movie is the best I have seen in….like forever. Maybe since Silence of the Lambs – well, OK, and Gattaca, but with LOTS more detail. Hollywood, I am talking to you: HIRE DENNIS GASSNER. Dennis, I am talking to you: HIRE ME. He has a palette of plaid, which may be some elaborate backstage joke, but it’s great. The little things, all the Travel Agency posters dissuading travel, the delicious little knickknacks all memorializing a fictional world and completely de-emphasizing the real world beyond. It’s a parageographical paradise. The lighting is terrific – it’s full-bodied and network TV sitcom-lit somehow but totally natural looking. Naturally Truman does not have a camera crew following him around with silks and bounce cards and stuff but the camera angles take care of that – plus of course, the world’s a soundstage, with electronically controlled lights – just beef up the sun to his west and take the glare off his south side. Did I mention the production design/art direction/set dressing rocks? I am going to see it again just to look at everything I missed. I LOVE it. Perfect irony – the fallen “star” (a 2K fresnel) was Sirius. When you see it, you will get it.
OK back to you normal people. The short narrative (and I read about scenes that I guess got cut – even some from the television previews) has amazing scope – great economy of writing and use of showing not telling. Go Andrew! Director of Photography Peter Biziou had quite a challenge capturing real world footage (a whole bar dedicated to Trumania), TV show footage as seen by the audience, and then “on set” photography which lets us the film audience just be invisible ciphers on the set of the Truman Show. We can see the awkward asides that Truman’s wife, played by Laura Linney, gives to her unseen audience. We can cut back to what they are supposed to see. Plus we can get a good idea of what it must be like to work at Disneyworld. My favorite shot is the extras, holding a freeze in 1st position, all hidden earpieces waiting for the Big Cue.
Now Jim. Jim proved he had serious acting chops before he was Ace Ventura, in the Fox TV movie Doing Time on Maple Drive. He could be dark in The Cable Guy, all warm and full of heart in Liar Liar, and of course, friggin hilarious. Even if we laughed at his antics alone with a bowl of vanilla mellorine and told no one of our secret glee, we laughed. It’s OK to admit it. Carrey here has to carry a film in a way he hasn’t before – he’s a man who believes he is losing his mind, and acts accordingly, but he’s led a brutally controlled, restricted life, and even yet still he has been subversively rewarded by his entire environment for being show-worthy. It’s really quite a complicated character that Jim has to inhabit, and I think he did a bang-up job. Being a celebrity and how it changes your day to day contacts and sense of self and anonymity and so on probably prepares one for the majority of the requirements of this role, but at the same time, we can never know the fish in a bowl feeling without knowing there is a bowl. Celebrity sneaks up on no one in life, but it did on Truman. What a great friggin movie.
Go see it right now.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 6/5/98
Time in minutes 104
Director Peter Weir
Studio Paramount Pictures