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Non-Review Review: Bruce Almighty

I like Bruce Almighty. I’ll concede that I might even like it more than any other of Jim Carrey’s madcap comedies. I think that it’s easily among the best of the comedies he produced after the millennium, doing well from a strong supporting cast and nice central moral. It isn’t deep or profound, and it’s unlikely to offer any more philosophical insight than anybody had going in, but it also manages to avoid being completely vacuous or empty. It’s remarkably satisfying for a light screwball comedy, even if it is a little on-the-nose.

All at sea...

Bruce Almighty is light, unashamedly light. I’ll concede that it is. It is, after all, a screwball comedy about a selfish jackass imbued with gods powers – rather than a drama or a science-fiction film. And there are some rather large issues raised by the movie’s plot. After all, Bruce manages to draw the attention of the Almighty after throwing a temper tantrum about the state of his own comfortable middle-class existence. He has a nice home, a loving girlfriend, a reasonable standard of living. It’s not as if he’s starving or destitute, or really fallen victim to any real form of suffering that isn’t a result of his own selfish actions.

And then God stands by as this selfish jackass runs the world into the ground. The news reports make no mention of fatalities, but it’s highly unlikely that Bruce’s absent-minded lunar activities didn’t have far-reaching consequences for the inhabitants of Japan. It’s equally hard to believe that the riots Bruce provokes at the end of the film don’t have any lasting repercussions beyond property damage. In fact, this film hardly paints the most flattering picture of God, willing to stand by and let all these people suffer so he can teach one guy a lesson in humility.

Almighty, then!

More than that, though, there are logical questions that stem from Bruce’s use of divine power. After all, surely God is omniscient? And surely has control of space and time, to make things like answering prayers a little easier from his perspective? More than that, though, the film side steps the more troubling ethical dilemmas raised by the existance of a Judeo-Christian God. We’re told that Bruce can’t recklessly interfere with humanity without dire consequences. His attempt to create a nice night sky for a romantic evening results in a tidal wave hitting Japan. His allowing everybody to win the lottery results in riots. These are fine, but they don’t explain why Bruce can’t intervene on other less selfish matters.

While he probably shouldn’t answer every prayer to win the lotto, why can’t he cure somebody’s cancer? Why would it be so wrong to give food to a starving family? The argument for God’s non-interference feels consciously weighted by the film. Indeed, the movie almost asks us to feel sorry for Morgan Freeman’s supreme entity. We’re told that he hasn’t taken a holiday since the Dark Ages, and Bruce and God share a tender moment reflecting on how fickle the love of mortals can be. “How do you make so many people love you without affecting Free Will?” Bruce asks. God replies with world-weary cynicism, “Welcome to my world, son. If you come up with an answer to that one, let me know.”You almost feel sorry for the poor guy, clearly misunderstood by the denizens of Bruce’s world.

Bowled over...

However, all of these are effectively excused by the fact that the film is a light comedy, and it’s not about God or even about religion. It’s very much about Bruce, and about his outlook on the world – his refusal to accept responsibility for his own actions, and his desire to blame something else for his troubles. That the something else happens to be God means the film has to walk a fine balance, but the movie is always more about Bruce’s arc than it is about the nature of religious belief.

I have to admit that I have an affection for Carrey’s moral-driven comedies like Yes Man, if only because they demonstrate an unrelenting optimism in an increasingly cynical world. Okay, they are occasionally toosimplistic and lacking in nuance or depth, but these comedies have an outlook on life that it’s rare to find these days. There’s a strong central message to the film, one divorced from the presence of the divine. The film is really about Bruce’s self-empowerment, playing out that age-old life lesson that it’s about appreciating what you have.

Dirty tricks...

And Bruce, being the selfish jerk that he is, has quite a lot to appreciate. Sure, his middle-class status anxieties might not be the most important or pressing issue of the day. The film didn’t win any awards for exposing an underbelly of modern society, but they do speak the film’s audience. After all, if everybody grew up happier in what they had, wouldn’t it be a better world? As I said, the moral is simple, but it’s hard to object to. The plot holes we stumble across on the way to that conclusion might be distracting – but they do saw that to forgive is divine.

It helps that I think Bruce Almighty also has the strongest collection of Carrey’s trademark humour this side of his earliest outings. The comedian gets to do all his yelling and writhing (and even a Clint Eastwood impersonation), but there’s a warmth to it all. There’s something beautiful about the fact that Bruce uses his powers to part the Red Soup and traffic, as he enjoys all manner of increasingly selfish and self-serving “miracles”in his own name.

God good, man!

I do appreciate the film’s relative imagination. In particular, the affectionate recreation of a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, with the lead character literally throwing a lasso around the moon. I always found that bit a little creepy (particularly Jimmy Stewart’s line about moonbeams shooting out of various places), but it demonstrates that the film’s heart is in the right place. This isn’t a profound meditation on religion or even faith, it’s a family-friendly moral fairytale about appreciating what we have. Even the movie’s love scene ends in a surreally wholesome fashion (given Jennifer Aniston’s been none-too-subtly orgasming in the bathroom) with both characters clad in their undergarmants, and Carrey pulling a wrestling move.

It helps that the film has perhaps the sturdiest ensemble for a Jim Carrey comedy that I can remember. There’s Morgan Freeman as God, arguably a role he’s been trying to play down ever since. It’s to Freeman’s credit that this idea of a God wallowing in self-pity doesn’t become too much for the film. Despite his moralising and occasionally misplaced priorities, Freeman’s God seems like a nice enough guy, one of the few deities in cinema that I would share a drink with. Aniston is solid as Carrey’s love interest, and even Steve Carrell has an early appearance in a role that probably won him the role of Brick in Anchorman!

Evan help us!

I’d be lying if I didn’t concede that Bruce Almighty is a film that has some very serious flaws if you stop to think about them too much. However, thanks to a talented cast and crew, they manage to mostly keep you busy laughing at what’s happening on-screen.

2 Responses

  1. This was a cool movie I just think that it shouldnt of got the hype that it did and I am sure that it upset many religous people the movie was a spoof on the abilities of a diety being given to a comedian this movie needs to be left back in the days of the VHS where it came from.

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