THE CARREY-CAREER CAREGIVERS” CARREYEST JIM CARREY PERFORMANCES
A Look at Our Top Ten Carreyest Performances by Actor JIM CARREY
By the Members of the Carrey-Career Caregivers
Jim Carrey is one of the greatest actors to have never been nominated for an Oscar. Much like one of our previously toptenned actors, Bill Murray, Carrey is a funnyman that wants to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, he”s the kind of clown the Academy refuses to acknowledge. But he”s not just a clown, as proven by his phenomenal performances in a handful of dramas over the last two decades. In truth, the breadth of his ability as an actor is almost unparalleled, succeeding in everything from the most madcap slapstick comedies to much more serious and dark dramatic fare.
Though he certainly has his demons–what comedian doesn”t?–Carrey actually has a nice philosophy on life. In a recent commencement speech at Maharishi University of Management, Carrey explained that at one point, around the age of 28, he figured out that the purpose of his life is to “free people from concern.” He dubbed his new devotion “The Church of Freedom from Concern,” and he has spent his life proselytizing that ministry through his seemingly unending barrage of jokes and gags. Elsewhere, he has said, “My focus is to forget the pain of life. Forget the pain, mock the pain, reduce it, and laugh.” And laugh he has. And laugh we have too, thanks to him. He exorcises our demons. “The effect you have on others,” he claimed in his commencement speech, “is the most valuable currency there is.” If that is true, then Jim Carrey is one of the richest men in Hollywood (for reasons other than his being the highest paid actor of the mid-90s).
But to claim that all Carrey does is make us laugh and free us from our concerns is to diminish his abilities. While he certainly adds levity to our lives, his performances and the movies they erupt from are often about worldly concerns. Even silly comedies have themes and ideas; even movies that seem dumb and dumber engage with the world on various levels. So, while on the one hand he does free us from our concerns, on the other hand he circles us right back around to them. And isn”t that what great art does? It helps us escape from reality while simultaneously bringing us back around to view reality from another angle.
In thanks for years of great performances, from the silly to the serious, the Carrey-Career Caregivers have created a top ten list of Jim Carrey”s Carreyest performances. We instinctively flock to these ten films like “the salmon of Capistrano”…
10. Peter Appleton aka Luke Trimble in Frank Darabont”s The Majestic
“They don”t really make movies like they used to–honestly sentimental and unabashedly uncynical. That”s something I think about every Christmas when my family and I watch Frank Capra”s It”s a Wonderful Life. But every once in a while a film comes along, one with a Golden Age aesthetic, and it reminds me of my father. The Majestic is one of those films, a feel-good homage to iconic director Frank Capra. Though Jim Carrey had played a few serious roles before this, his performance as Peter Appleton is unlike those other dramatic roles because it harkens back to an Old Hollywood acting style, in the vein of one of my personal favorites: Jimmy Stewart. In those other previous serious roles, there was always at least some comedic undercurrent, so this performance challenged him to find new avenues for his talent. As director Frank Darabont explained, “Every instinct in his body is put aside and he has to develop a new instinct and realize that he can do nothing onscreen and be captivating.” One of the most interesting scenes in the film is the “Town Council Scene” in which nearly every other actor is given a chance to be funny while Carrey has to play the straight man. Carrey maintains his likability here without reverting to his natural inclination toward silliness. Even though there is very little of his trademark slapstick comedy, he still uses the skills he honed in his earlier comedic work in this dramatic context, especially in conveying various feelings and thoughts through facial expressions. Few would have had the faith in Carrey to pull off this kind of a performance, but Darabont claims he had “always gotten this Jimmy Stewart kind of vibe” from the actor. Thus, Carrey is used by the director not only to pay tribute to the Frank Capras and Jimmy Stewarts of the films of yesteryear, but also to reexamine some of the thematic ideas in those early films. As Roger Ebert wrote, “Darabont has deliberately tried to make the kind of movie Capra made, about decent small-town folks standing up for traditional American values. In an age of Rambo patriotism, it is good to be reminded of Capra patriotism–to remember that America is not just about fighting and winning, but about defending our freedoms.”" - Jeff Malone, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
9. Various Roles (including, but not limited to: Fire Marshall Bill, Vera de Milo, & Background Guy) in the Wayans Brothers” In Living Color
“A great many Americans (especially those viewers tuned into late-night television from the mid-70s onward) were initiated into network sketch comedy by Saturday Night Live. I, however, began my own foray into bawdy sketch TV with one particular early 1990s offering by the then-fledgling Fox Network: The Wayans Brothers” In Living Color. The controversial program was hilarious and explicit enough to feel like an illicit treat to my elementary school self, while my parents loved the hip comedy that–at least for a short time–surpassed the political engagement of its contemporaries. While the landmark contribution of the show was its majority ethnic minority cast, one true standout amongst the featured players was a 28-year old Canadian entertainer who was only beginning to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Carrey”s time as a cast member during four of the show”s five seasons served as an explosive mainstream audience introduction to his bombastic comedic stylings. Before the iconic film characters Ace Ventura, Stanley Ipkiss, and Lloyd Christmas, Carrey”s portrayals of Vera de Milo and Fire Marshal Bill demonstrated his truly awe-inspiring ability to become a living cartoon–an elastic, loud, human personification of societal id that was somehow both shockingly perverse and sublimely appealing to all ages. In a way, Carrey”s later quest for legitimization as a dramatic actor is a perfect example of the burden of his true comedic talent (and his amazing work on In Living Color could be said to be Carrey”s assumption of that burden). When a talented comedian with an inhuman skill for exaggeration–like Carrey–tries to traffic in nuance, the results and subsequent reception of that attempted nuance are continually overshadowed by the public”s memory of that comedian”s manic brilliance. I hope that Jim Carrey does receive more of the dramatic accolades he seems to desire…if only because I want him to be able to accept a prestigious award with Fire Marshal Bill”s trademark cackle.” – Randall Winston, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
8. Fletcher Reede in Tom Shadyac”s Liar Liar
“Liar Liar is significant to Jim Carrey’s career because it proved he was capable of making families laugh. His previous films—namely Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and The Cable Guy—showcased an endlessly energetic brand of comedy that pushed the boundaries of physical pliability. There was an air of the transgressive in the performances, too. Below the surface, Carrey seemed to rebel in these films, against what though wasn’t exactly clear. Perhaps it was against the notion that slapstick was no longer worth exploring. Or the oft-uttered sentiment, “Now I’ve seen everything!” Or maybe it was the limits of the body itself he wanted to confront. At any rate, his mania was edgy and fresh. This isn’t to say it feels stale in Liar Liar; it merely feels established. Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, a workaholic lawyer and increasingly absent father whose son wishes he couldn’t lie for one day. The wish comes true, of course, and Fletcher is rendered honest for 24 hours. But Fletcher’s lying was compulsive, so he quarrels with his unwanted morality. While attempting to figure out what’s wrong, he tries to lie about the color of a pen. He wants to declare the pen red, but every fiber of his being resists and ultimately turns on him in a hilarious scene that ends with a dumbfounded Fletcher peeking over the top of his desk, blue ink smeared across his face, mumbling, “The pen is blue.” In another iconic scene, Fletcher kicks his own ass in a bathroom in an attempt to delay a court case until he’s able to lie again. These moments are etched as deeply into our minds as anything in Carrey’s canon, but Liar Liar marks a transformation in Carrey’s career, for it’s the first time his antics propel his character to change. Fletcher learns to stop battling himself, to embrace the truth. The result is an effective instance of vulnerable humanity—also something new for Carrey at the time. That he delved into more complex characters in The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, The Majestic, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind after Liar Liar’s success is no accident. Those subsequent roles showed that Carrey’s dramatic talents are as pliable as his comedic gift, but the truth set those talents free.” – Matthew Cabe, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
7. Stanley Ipkiss aka The Mask in Chuck Russell”s The Mask
“Although based on the 1980s Dark Horse comic, The Mask, is essentially a riff on the 1963 Jerry Lewis film, The Nutty Professor. When timid bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss puts on the mysterious mask he finds in the river he turns into the mischievous green-faced, big toothed, zoot-suit wearing trickster known only as The Mask (the Buddy Love persona of this film). The Mask, along with Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber, helped rocket Jim Carrey to superstardom during the mid-90s. And it’s easy to see why he became such a star. He was clearly enjoying himself during this period (before he wanted to be taken seriously), and that’s what makes his performance hold up. Sure, he’s basically working that rubber face of his and mugging for the audience and spewing out pop culture references for 94 minutes–but it works. Unlike the violent and dark tone of the 1980s comic, his Mask is a toned-down cartoonish trickster rather than a sociopath. His “mask” is more a personification of Ipkiss’s Id and the film’s stakes are more about Ipkiss learning to accept his true self (once again a debt owed to Lewis’s Nutty Professor). The Mask is a light-hearted film balanced with edgy homages to the 1940s cartoons and noir films Ipkiss’s character is so obsessed with. There is violence but Carrey’s Mask would rather defuse it instead of revel in it. I couldn’t help but have Carrey’s recent comments about the Newtown shooting and his vow to not star in super violent films (especially with guns) during the scene where he sings the Desi Arnaz song, “Cuban Pete” to a group of armed cops and SWAT team members. Charlie Chaplin, in his later and less radical years, said a “clown should be above politics.” The same can be said for Carrey’s Mask. Instead of killing his enemies, the Mask “slays” them with laughter, music, and dancing. Not a bad tactic.” – Anthony Volpe, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
“In Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Jim Carrey plays the eponymous character. Released in the early part of 1994, it became Carrey”s breakout role, and probably influenced many of my fellow Carrey blurb writers” prepubescent lives. At the time of its release, Carrey had made a name for himself on In Living Color, primarily as a kooky, absurdist Fire Marshall. Ace Ventura took it further, and allows Carrey to reach peak absurdity. He”s finally off the leash in total and allowed carte blanche to speak directly to every 13 year old boy across the globe–and that”s exactly what he did in those 90 minutes. If we are looking for the film”s Carreyest moments, it”s hard to know which ones to pick since basically the entire film is comprised of classic Carrey moments. To name a few out of obligation: there”s the oft-quoted “alllrighty then,” the use of butt-talking, the “Finkle is Einhorn” Crying Game revelation, the Captain Kirk impressions, etc. The list is endless. We all know those moments. So it comes as no surprise that this film is quintessential Carrey. In rewatching the movie though, I noticed one thing that escaped me as a kid: Ace Ventura is actually a huge asshole. This character, that admittedly helped define my sense of humor and in some way even defined my character as a real life person, is a bastard to literally everyone he comes across, including his newly-found girlfriend (Courtney Cox). And yet everyone around him seems to put up with him. Hell, they even seem to love and respect him. A number of questions came to my mind upon reviewing the film. I wondered: What did I ever see in this character? Why did I ape so much of his act? How did this film have such a hold over me? And why would anyone want to be around a character so grating and idiotic? I guess maybe you should ask my wife… (Note: I said that last part while talking with my butt cheeks).” – Shea Formaneck, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
5. Truman Burbank in Peter Weir”s The Truman Show
“Jim Carrey is a great actor. Still, perhaps no actor has been burned more by the “thespian-clown dichotomy” canard favored by the Hollywood establishment than he. Carrey first flexed his wide ranging dramatic chops in 1998’s The Truman Show, Peter Weir’s topical simulacrum dramedy and early response to the voyeuristic perils of the nascent medium of reality TV. The Truman Show is nothing short of a treatise on freedom–the bravery and human entitlement to face one’s existence head-on–and Carrey nails it as Truman Burbank, the eponymous main character of an impossibly popular reality show following a human life from the cradle to the grave. When we first meet Truman, Carrey’s repose and restraint are warm and intoxicating in the most mundane ways. Indeed, his dramatic abilities to present empathetic childlike naivety without coming off as cartoonish are truly ironic, considering his resume up to this point in his career. But as the façade begins to shatter around a middle-aged Truman, Carrey really begins to jump off the screen. In a beautiful, spine-tingling scene (scored perfectly by Philip Glass) Truman–noticing that the choreography of the seemingly quotidian town may in fact be the machinations of a complex organism–begins to interrupt. He stops traffic. He upsets destiny. This is one of many brilliant examples of Carrey concurrently coming to terms both with Truman’s existential epiphany and Carrey as performer growing as an actor before our very eyes.” – Alex Bacha, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
4. The Cable Guy aka Ernie “Chip” Douglas aka Larry Tate aka Ricky Ricardo etc. in Ben Stiller”s The Cable Guy
“”You know what the trouble about real life is? There”s no danger music,” says Jim Carrey as The Cable Guy“s Ernie “Chip” Douglas. Or is he Larry Tate? Or is he Ricky Ricardo? He is all of the above and none of the above. He is what they”ve made him. He is ”the bastard son of Claire Huxtable.” He is “a lost Cunningham,” emphasis on “lost.” He”s adrift in a world where reality doesn”t exist outside of a screen, where before the verdict is even in on a court case we get a made-for-TV dramatization of the crime, where even a Jefferson Airplane song has to be introduced as “from a little rockumentary called Gimme Shelter,” where the finest thoughts are Jerry Springer”s “Final Thoughts,” where “free cable is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” and where we learn “the facts of life from watching The Facts of Life.” Jim Carrey plays this nameless cable guy with aplomb: mixing elements of the zany slapstick comedy he was known for at the time with some new darker and more serious elements. It”s “Hitchcock meets Jerry Lewis…or Rosemary”s Baby meets The Odd Couple,” Carrey told HBO”s First Look at the time of the film”s release. Coming off of the successes of The Mask, the two Ace Venturas, and Dumb and Dumber, this film was a curveball for Carrey fans, one that few at the time embraced. But it hinted at his unwillingness to stick to an expected schtick, something that would become even more obvious immediately after The Cable Guy when he began to veer into more dramatic roles with The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and ultimately Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Cable Guy has gained a cult audience, and now many consider it one of his best performances. Carrey”s character rarely speaks from his own mouth; instead, he regurgitates countless quotes, making reference to a thousand and one movies and TV shows, presaging the kind of comedy that would become legion only a decade later with shows like Arrested Development and Community. Whether he”s impersonating Spock fighting Kirk in the Star Trek episode “Amok Time” while singing the fight scene”s score or extolling the virtues of Kevin Costner and his epic failure Waterworld, Carrey nails it as a guy obsessed with media culture–and one tragically, frantically trying to find “somebody to love,” to make some real human connection in a world where the only connection that matters is the cable hook-up. Even as the comically tragic (or is it tragically comic?) tale comes to a close atop a giant TV satellite, the cable guy must find an apt cinematic comparison to make it real: “It”s like that movie Goldeneye,” he says. And maybe it is? And maybe it isn”t? “What a place for an ending” indeed. The Cable Guy is a scathing satire of American media culture, one that laments the ways television has infiltrated our lives. It”s dangerous the way we”ve separated ourselves from actual reality, the way we don”t even see the tyranny of the screen when it is right in front of our eyes (literally, right now, you are probably reading this on a screen…). But why would we revolt, why would we “kill the babysitter,” when we can”t even comprehend it as a dangerous situation? After all, it has no danger music.” - Taylor Zahn, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
3. Joel Barish in Michel Gondry”s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
“The irony of the comedian is that to be truly funny, one must also be deadly serious–or at least be able to think seriously about the rawness and absurdity inherent to a given milieu. Dissecting the complex landscapes of contemporary culture and political discourse requires a capacious intellect, and a sensitivity to the authentic human weight of our condition. It is that intelligence and sensitivity–in all of its empathic depth–that made Jim Carrey”s performance something of a revelation in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We knew Carrey the screwball, Carrey the rubber-jawed wonder, Carrey the laugh-a-minute yuckster. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, we met Carrey the lonely, introverted, artistic, entirely believable silhouette of longing that is Joel Barish. His performance is restrained and suffused with a lived-in sadness that make his moments of joy or pain ripple prettily across the snow-dusted beaches and train stations. There is a hushed intimacy about him, and at his best–as when out on the ice with Clementine–you feel the punch-drunk possibility of a new relationship: “I could die right now, Clem. I”m just…happy. I”ve never felt that before. I”m just exactly where I want to be.” Barring a brief, funny turn as Baby Joel, the film rarely asks him to engage in his famous brand of physical comedy. And that”s to his–and our–benefit. When I watch this film, I don”t see Jim Carrey. I see Joel Barish. A man who is, finally, a creation not of eternal sunshine but of the light and shadow of this uneven phenomenon we call life.” – Dustin Illingworth, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
2. Lloyd Christmas in the Farrelly Brothers” Dumb and Dumber
“I love Dumb and Dumber the way some people love a secret family lasagna recipe, and I think every American child should be mandated to watch it on their 13th birthday. I was lucky enough to see this movie for the first time just around that age. At that point, I thought I had learned all I needed to know already about adulthood, falling in love, and the dire need to follow “a call to adventure” from TV, movies, and stolen copies of Cosmopolitan. So, naturally, nothing could have possibly been more satisfying than laughing at a dummie like Lloyd Christmas. I had never laughed that hard in front of a movie in my whole life, and I went back for more. My compulsive rewatching of this movie was initially motivated by a goal to literally memorize the whole film (I had a hard time making friends). But, as silly as this sounds, after watching and rewatching Dumb and Dumber enough, I had one of my first big existential breakthroughs. One night it hit me that everything Lloyd did, no matter how stupid, made total sense to Lloyd. Buried between Lloyd’s assumption that Mary Swanson is the woman of his dreams and his decision to dump laxatives in Harry’s hot chocolate, Dumb and Dumber has a cautionary message we all need to be exposed to, especially at 13: Your honest, important, and pure intentions are all subject to the fact that you may very well be a total idiot. This discovery of a deeper layer to Dumb and Dumber is completely due to Jim Carrey and his brilliant performance. Carrey balances Lloyd’s petty, selfish, short-sighted actions with the starry-eyed confidence of a realized, leading man–as though the chipped tooth, bowl cut, and Dickies jacket were in our imaginations. Without this fantastic undercurrent of weird self-entitlement, Lloyd would just be an idiot without needs. But by wearing his heart on his tacky sleeve, Carrey digs up the things in Lloyd that make him more like us. We all want to be loved. We all want adventure. We all want to achieve these things “the right way.” Because we all can identify with where Lloyd is coming from, the film’s broad moments of cartoonish entropy pale in comparison to Lloyd’s internal Rube Goldberg leaps in “logic.” We can relax. No matter how confusing things get, Lloyd is happy to remind us all, “I took care of it!” We are all dumb enough to go along with it.” - Caitlin Cutt, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
1. Andy Kaufman (& Tony Clifton) in Miloš Forman”s Man on the Moon
“Jim Carrey”s on-set antics during the filming of the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon were legendary even before the film was released. Director Miloš Forman claimed, “I can sincerely say that during the shooting of Man on the Moon, I met Jim Carrey only twice–and it was on two Saturdays when we had dinner. Otherwise, every day it was either Andy Kaufman or Tony Clifton or Elvis Presley or Latka.” Method acting, which is what Carrey did in the extreme on the set of Man on the Moon, is a series of techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters. Some method actors, truly dedicated to the techniques, refuse to break character on set between takes. This is also the way the biopic”s subject Andy Kaufman approached comedy: never break character. He kept the joke going long after his set had ended and everyone had gone home. In fact, that there continue to be people who think he faked his death and will one day come back proves that the joke is still ongoing. As Carrey explained, “Andy never let you off the hook. Everybody else had an out: Hey, folks, that was a joke I just told! Andy went home, put his head on the pillow, and went to sleep, knowing that most of the audience was going: He doesn”t really feel that way, does he?” In a way, this is akin to the professional wrestling term “kayfabe”–which is the portrayal of staged events as “true” or “real” events, and basically amounted to the wrestlers keeping up the in-ring stories and rivalries, as though they were real, even when outside the ring. Kaufman, who spent a good portion of his comedic career wrestling women from his audience and engaged in kayfabe rivalries with Jerry Lawler and other pro wrestlers, was obsessed with the idea of kayfabe. Kaufman mimicked its moves, by pushing reality to its extremes and never letting his guard down, never breaking character, never exposing a true self, never giving a knowing wink. Carrey played Kaufman the same way–or maybe that”s the wrong way to put it? Carrey didn”t play Kaufman; he lived Kaufman. As Miloš Forman said, “I don”t think that he transformed himself into the character…I think he woke up that character that morning.” This is Carrey”s best performance because it goes beyond “performance” into pure being, into some weird form of “honesty” (“honesty” in a meta-kayfabe lie sort of way). But it is not only Carrey”s best performance, but also somehow his most Carreyest. It mixes beautifully and seamlessly the zany slapstick of the rubber-faced Carrey with the darker, more serious, uncompromising Carrey. It is the performance where Carrey is able to combine all the aspects of his personality to brilliant effect (ironically doing so while being the least himself, while erasing himself, while supposedly “not even appearing on set or in the film”). I”m reminded of a moment in the movie where Courtney Love as love interest Lynne Margulies lays next to Carrey-Kaufman, and they have the following exchange: ”You are a complicated person,” she says. Looking away from her, he guiltily whines, “You don”t know the real me.” She laughs. “There isn”t a real you.” And nothing could be more true: Kaufman is a mannequin with a wardrobe of identities, a chaos of constantly changing kayfabe personas. But even better than her claim that “there isn”t a real” Andy Kaufman is his perfect response: He looks at her, a bit lachrymose, and suffers a half-smile, admitting, “Oh yeah, I forgot.” Carrey”s so good that we forget whether or not there is a real him and whether or not there is a real Andy Kaufman, because in the moments we watch the film, neither are real, and neither matter. Only the performance matters: the performance of identity as its own uncompromising reality: both method and kayfabe.” - Tyler Malone, Lifetime Carrey Enthusiast
The members of the Carrey-Career Caregivers are a group of film fans who love all that is Jim Carrey. The group consists of Tyler Malone, Scott Cheshire, Dustin Illingworth, Anthony Volpe, Alex Bacha, Shea Formaneck, Kelsey Malone, Caitlin Cutt, Conor Higgins, Artie Moreno, Randall Winston, Andy Neltare, Ariana Lader, Taylor Zahn, Matthew Cabe, Ben Steinberg, Jeff Malone, and Liz Malone.
Written and Compiled by the Members of the Carrey-Career Caregivers
Photography Courtesy of New Line Cinema
Design by Francesca Rimi
Film Still from Dumb and Dumber, Photography Courtesy of New Line Cinema