Liar Liar is the funniest movie I have seen in a very long time (A year? More?). It is Jim Carrey’s funniest film role yet and his funniest performance since the TV show In Living Color.
All of Me, 1983, Carl Reiner, because Steve Martin is great as Roger Cobb, who loses control over half of his body (not just his tongue)
Martin & Lewis: The Kings of Comedy, or any other video of Jerry Lewis in his early TV career. The resemblance between Carrey and the young Lewis is remarkable, though most of my generation wouldn't know it.
Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur wrote some great comedy for Jim Carrey and it should be noted that the material is funny without degenerating into cheap jokes about human secretions and excretions. With that in mind, this movie is as funny as the best work the Marx Brothers ever did, and much more enjoyable than, say, Dumb and Dumber, Beavis and Butt-Head, or even Private Parts.
Jim Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, a lawyer who cannot lie for a whole day, thanks to a magic wish by his son Max (Justin Cooper). Max lives with his mother Audrey (Maura Tierney). When Fletcher and Max do see each other, they love each other a lot. But Max easily tires of all the broken promises from dad. So when dad skips Max’s birthday party to “work,” Max lets loose with the birthday wish.
All of this is a relatively unnecessary setup for the real heart of the movie, which is Jim Carrey’s performance. In fact, the beginning and end of the movie are about as unoriginal and clichéd as the worst straight-to-video “family films.” But this is the kind of movie sold on the idea that film historian Bruce Kawin calls “high concept plus a hook.” The idea is easily summarized, and an interesting angle is chosen from which to tell the story. The objective is not originality. The objective is to get Jim Carrey in front of the camera in a funny situation.
In that endeavor, Liar Liar succeeds wonderfully. I will refrain from giving away any of the jokes — I DETEST people who sit in theaters and “predict” the lines they’ve read in reviews, especially in a comedy — but I have a theory as to why Carrey is so funny.
Part of what makes great comedy is stripping a person down to their core. John Cleese is so funny because the British are a stuffy, priggish people. John Cleese looks, acts, and sounds British, but when all the puffery is stripped away his sheer silliness is heightened. Jacques Tatí’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is one of my favorite films ever. It is not hilarious like Liar Liar but it is subtly funny in a way that makes it endlessly watchable. It is funny because Mr. Hulot and all the other guests at the resort are on holiday and they have left their inhibitions at home. Each person can relax and be their true self at the holiday resort. Each character is funny in their own way. Steve Martin is so funny because his comic persona is naive. Martin walks on stage with an arrow through his head and doesn’t realize it for three or four minutes. He tells you the way to make a million dollars is, first, to get a million dollars . . .
Likewise, in Liar Liar, Carrey plays an inconsiderate prick who is successful in part because of how well he tells little white lies. When that outer shell is removed, his true nature shows through and it is hilarious.
Liar Liar is a big step for Carrey as an actor. Okay, he had to do slightly more acting in The Cable Guy than he did in the Ace Venturas or in Dumb and Dumber, but in Liar Liar, his character is immediately likeable, and not just because of the comedy. His love for his son looks genuine. He and his son share a screen chemistry (if I may use that term without being accused of NAMBLA sympathies) that is genuine and heartwarming (in that straight-to-video “family film” kind of way). Carrey is not a great actor, but he’s not bad when called upon.
I hope Carrey is able to follow up with more great comedy like this. Good comedies are hard to come by. Just check your local video store and prove it to yourself. All the great films are docudramas, action epics, or space sagas. Comedies come and go and are often forgotten as soon as the credits roll. It’s hard to sustain the humor for two hours and leave the audience calling for more. Jim Carrey has that gift and it was put to excellent use in Liar Liar.