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Carrey On: Jim Carrey’s Eternal Oscar Pursuit Less Likely Than the Man on the Moon?

It was Jack Nicholson himself who reportedly recognised Jim Carrey as the Jack Nicholson of his generation. That’s high praise indeed, particularly when you consider the size of Nicholson’s ego. It’s true that Carrey is a very talented actor – his slapstick ability is unmatched in the modern day and age, and he seems able to invest a huge amount of humanity in his dramatic characters. Still, despite my faith in his dramatic abilities, I’m not sold on the Jack Nicholson comparison. Partially because Carrey looks far less scary than Nicholson does (Stephen King famously denounced The Shining because he felt that the audience never doubted Nicholson would go axe-crazy), but also because despite Nicholson’s prolific Oscar track record, Carrey has yet to secure even a nomination. Maybe I Love You Phillip Morris will be that film.

Carrey is very good at doing fake smiles...

Carrey is very good at doing fake smiles...

Jim Carrey emerged as a fantastically physical comedian in a whole string of watchable, but not exceptional, comedies. Before that, he’d been the sole white performer on the Wayans brothers In Living Colour. Somewhere along the way, either Carrey or someone close to him decided to expand in dramatic territory. Starting with a role not-too-far from his regular gigs, the post-modern comedian Andy Kaufman, Carrey drew critical praise for The Man on the Moon. There was talk of an Oscar nomination in a film that was as divisive as its subject, but nothing emerged. Having successfully returned from his scouting mission into the drama genre, the actor decided to mount a full-scale invasion.

His new film, I Love You Phillip Morris – playing in the Directors’ Fortnight, a bit of a sideshow to Cannes’ main attractions – might just get him that nod. One of those so-ridiculous-it-has-to-be-true stories that Hollywood is so fond of it, it sees Carrey play gay hustler and conman Steven Russell. Russell falls in love with his cellmate (the eponymous Phillip Morris – played by Ewan McGregor). When the two are separated, Russell attempts to reunite with his lover through a variety of increasingly absurd escape ploys. I’ve read up on Russell’s history, so I may have slightly spoiled the film for myself, but I’m still looking forward to it. That the reviews are generally positive doesn’t hurt.

The more cynical part of me can see this as an early attempt at Oscar-baiting on the part of Carrey. The straight-actor-as-gay-character-schtick seems to ring alarm bells just about everywhere, particular as it has secured Sean Penn an Oscar, Heath Ledger a nomination and James Franco some buzz, among others. In most cases my cynicism would lead me to make snide remarks about the actor so boldly going for the gold, but I can forgive Carrey for three reasons:

  • he’s generated enough drama/comedy cred for me to believe he’s doing the project because it actually interests him;
  • the film looks slightly skewed towards comedy, which is a turn off for the Academy in the leading categories, so it isn’t as blatant a ploy as it might seem;
  • finally, Carrey is due some recognition.

Okay, I’ll concede his dramatic track record is mixed, but when it’s strong, it’s very strong – and he’s always great to watch. The Truman Show, one of the most important and prescient films of the last decade, did not even land a Best Picture nomination, let alone one for its star. The Majestic crashed and burned as an overlong and self-indulgent tale. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind yielded yet another Oscar nomination to the perennial bridesmaid (at the time) Kate Winslet, but nothing for her costar. The Number 23 was a mess, despite a relatively strong performance from Carrey in what would never be a thankful role. In the meantime, Carrey continued to be one of cinema’s most bankable comedians, offsetting these artsy films with a variety of comedies – again with mixed results.

It’s not uncommon for a talented performer to slip under the Academy’s radar – Gary Oldman has yet to receive a nomination, for example – and I think that Carrey’s comedic past may have tainted him somewhat to the Academy. The Academy isn’t above snobbishness when it comes to the acting awards – Eddie Murphy was genuinely considered deserving of a nomination (and possibly a win) for his supporting role in DreamGirls, but that was before posters and trailers for Norbit started appearing during awards season. Many pundits suggest the fatsuit cost Murphy a deserved award.

I don’t expect Carrey to secure a nomination – at least for this year. The Best Actor category is just about full before the films have even been released, and I doubt Carrey has the capacity to pull off an upset, though stranger things have happened. I do hope that one day he will get an award, as he is one of our generations most solid performers. In the meantime, I’m anticipating his return to physical comedy in the Three Stooges. Maybe Benicio and Sean can give him some tips.

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I Love You Phillip Morris is a dramedy based on the true story of conman Steve Russell, directed by John Requa and John Ficarra in their directorial debut (they co-wrote Bad Santa and Cats and Dogs) . It stars Jim Carrey (The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Ewan McGregor (Angels and Demons, The Island) and Leslie Mann (Knocked Up, The 40 year Old Virgin). Despite being released in Europe in late 2009, it has a provisional release date of 12 February 2010 in the United States – too late for this year’s awards, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see that move in or for a special premiere to be held in Los Angeles to make it eligible (as with The Reader last year). There is no release date set for the UK and Ireland as of yet.

4 Responses

  1. I call it a shame that some actors feel it so necessary to ride the current wave of interest in homosexual/lesbian roles. There ARE people who have NO interest in such a lifestyle & would MUCH rather NOT see their favorite actors lower themselves to this level.
    I care not about the backlash I may get for posting this because I KNOW there are many people who totally agree with me. I also have the right to voice this & have decided to do so here. – Thank You.

    • I feel compelled to respectfully disagree. I’d disagree with the classification of LGBT as a ‘lifestyle’, as if it can be chosen by a person. I don’t think that having a sexual orientation that is not straight or asexual is anything to be ashamed of.

      I’d also consider a character’s sexuality to be part of their fundamental identity. I think that a actor embracing the character they play can show range and skill, I certainly don’t think that the willingness to play outside their own orientation ‘lowers’ them in any way. I just don’t like it that playing a gay character creates the presumption that you deserve at least an Oscar nomination.

      Might I suggest that, if you don’t like it then perhaps you do not watch it? No one is presuming to ‘rub your face in it’, so to speak. If it’s not your cup of tea, it’s not your cup of tea.

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