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If all you want from Jim Carrey is another Ace Ventura, stay home. Everyone else, and this includes all the writers who have said "all the ideas that could be done have been done," empty your wallets. Something new has reared its tremendously enjoyable, and to some extent disturbing, head. The movie is called the The Truman Show and it's every little perfect white-bread family world television show of the 1950s packed up in a color package . . . except that everybody in the cast knows that they're on TV. Except it's star.
Truman Burbank (Carrey) sells insurance, a perfect 1950s white-bread type job. His best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich) is always popping by, six-pack in hand, to kill the off hours. His wife, Meryl (Laura Linney) could be Donna Reed, except that she also works as a nurse (all in uniform, just like the dolls your little sister played with). Marlon, Meryl and all the inhabitants of the town of Seahaven are all actors playing parts in "The Truman Show" broadcasting 24 hours a day live on TV. The corporation that adopted the unwanted baby boy at birth has made a fortune off of merchandising with the real Truman blissfully unaware of how he's being manipulated.
Everything Truman knows is wrong. The newspapers and magazines he reads are fake. The radio broadcasts and the movies on TV are fake. Truman's entire life, is documented and psychologically choreographed by Christof (Ed Harris), television auteur supreme and literal man in the moon. I'll not explain that, you'll understand when you see the film. Christof has created a community he describes as "the way the world should work," and uses it to instill phobias and fears; he "kills" characters in Truman's life to kick the ratings higher and higher. As carefully planned as it is, Christof cannot overcome the effects of true love at first sight, in the persona of actor/extra Lauren (Natascha McElhone). This program glitch occurs a good ten seasons earlier than the screen story, and how writer Andrew Niccol (who last wrote and directed Gattaca) works the flashback into the movie's "live" broadcast is part of the charm of the piece.
Which brings us to broadcast day Ten Thousand Nine Hundred and Nine. On a beautiful, sunny day in this, his thirtieth season, a key light falls out of a cloudless blue sky, smashing to earth at Truman's feet in the middle of an empty street. This is the first of a number of misfiring special effects, too funny to give away, that begin to clue Truman in to his real situation. As he pushes the limits of his existence to try to discover what is real and what isn't, the paid actors that inhabit his universe, trained to push improv to the limit to begin with, fall apart. They do it very subtly, and that makes it all the more funny.
The gags come at you visually and intellectually as you get to see various "real" viewers react, predict and comment on every breath Truman takes. To them, it's better than soap opera because "The Truman Show" is more real. If you think deeply, the idea that any entity could have such power over an individual may bother the hell out of you. It did for Cranky's date and many of the people I spoke with afterwards. Like the onscreen radical Lauren, they all rooted for Truman's escape from the dome that is his home.
The Truman Show is the role we've all been expecting of Jim Carrey. It has just enough of the crazy edge that we've come to expect, but it is also emotionally solid. Once Carrey gets the de rigeur ass-in-your-face shot out of the way he presents a character that you really care about.
Director Peter Weir breaks every rule in the film school book as the "5000 miniature cameras" in the studio set "town" of Seahaven track Truman's every move. Pinhole shots, blocked cameras, off kilter framing, everything is designed to make you think you are visually eavesdropping on this man's life. Weir must have had a blast planning it out. Niccol's script parodies the commercial product placements found in other movies and has so many clever bits woven into it that Cranky is chomping at the bit to give some away.
Chomping is bad for my teeth. Here's a hint: Pay attention to the brief onscreen display of the name of the boat Truman uses to try to make his escape to freedom. 'Nuff said.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Truman Show, he would have paid . . .
Truman Showisn't a gut buster in the classic
Carrey sense, but I never cared much for that "classic" stuff.
The Truman Show is much more than very satisfying. The sucker fires
on all cylinders. See it and see it again for the stuff buried down so deep
you'll miss it first time out. Another addition to Cranky's "Best of
the Year" list.
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