The Good: Well-written, well-constructed, Generally decent acting, Characters are fine
The Bad: Jim Carrey's acting (like other actors), PACING!
The Basics: In a generally worthwhile movie, Jim Carrey and Kirsten Dunst give performances almost worth their pay by making a slow movie work out.
There are two actors in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind that I've never seen in a role that makes me believe in their hype. There aren't a lot of actors who are popular who I sit stupefied to figure out why they appeal to the masses. Adam Sandler was one until I saw Punch-Drunk Love, and later 50 First Dates and Mr. Deeds. Kirsten Dunst and Jim Carrey are finally going off the list both with their place in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Lately, I've watched numerous movies with Dunst and I just don't see it. She's flat in Spider-man and annoying in Elizabethtown. My beef with Jim Carrey - other than his inability to act - is that whenever I've seen him in a role where he earnestly portrays someone other than his In Living Color quasi-crazy persona (which I don't necessarily assume is indicative of Jim Carrey, private citizen), he is simply imitating the performance of another - usually less well-paid actor. So, for example, in Batman Forever, Jim Carrey's performance is Jim Carrey As Matthew Frewer as The Riddler. In Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Carrey is Billy Campbell (from Once and Again) and in his manic moments of understanding, he plays Peter Krause as Joel Barish.
Joel Barish, having inadvertently learned that his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski has had their relationship entirely erased from her memory, decided to undergo a procedure to have Clementine erased from his memory. As Joel is having his memory erased, he begins to regret the decision to eradicate Clementine from his past while the workers from the company performing the procedure are getting stoned around him. As Joel tries desperately to store the memories of Clementine in areas of his mind not associated with her, the workers rededicate themselves to fixing the problems and completing their assignment.
There are two big twists in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind; the obvious, you'll see it coming a mile away if you're awake and not braindead twist and the clever twist that makes the movie ultimately work. Basically, if you are even mildly experienced with movie twists and you are paying attention at the beginning of the movie, the first twist will be unsurprising. In fact, writers Charlie Kaufman, Pierre Bismuth, and Michel Gondry drop a number of hints to let the viewer know exactly where the movie is going.
The second twist is out of the blue and it's perfect. I doff my cap to Kaufman (I liked Being John Malkovich, too), Bismuth and Gondry for creating a movie that gives viewers exactly what they expect under the guise - via technique of rearranging the order of key events in the movie - of faux cleverness only to make a reveal that is actually spectacularly clever.
And in the process, director Michel Gondry gets the performance out of Kirsten Dunst I've been waiting to see. In Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Dunst plays Mary the receptionist at the company that does the memory erasing. Her character's backstory and resolution is masterfully played out by Dunst with a subtlety that I've not seen in her. Here, Dunst is finally substantive, not vacant, emotive without being annoying. She's worth watching.
Kate Winslet, who plays Clementine, does an admirable job in the role. Clementine is an erratic character, but Winslet plays her mood swings with realistic motion. Winslet is able to go from calm to manic, sensitive to raging in instants and she has the ability to soften her face and eyes at moments to make the viewer completely believe in her empathy and love for Joel. It's the best I've seen her act since Hamlet.
Which brings us to Jim Carrey. Carrey is Carrey here, but he's playing mature and guarded, so his performance comes off like an imitation of Billy Campbell in the early episodes of Once And Again. And that's a great role and Carrey's impression is spot on. But the movie has the feel of "Why didn't they just use Billy Campbell?" until late in the movie when there are moments - as Joel is freaking out - where the viewer thinks "Why didn't they just use Peter Krause?"
It doesn't matter who they use; the real killer in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is the pacing. There is the opening section that establishes a tone. It's quirky, it's moody, it's dark and it's dreary. But we get it. Joel Barish is a lost man. He meets Clementine, they seem happy. Credits roll. After the title sequence, the movie drags. It drags as the story is constructed in a way that tells the story to try to make sense and to set up the supposed first (non-surprising) twist. But it's slow. It's Adaptation slow (Damn you, Charlie Kaufman!). And all that saves the movie from being an abysmal failure is the special effects in the late middle and then the real twist. Otherwise, the pacing is a death march here. I mean, there are stretches of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind where the viewer will scream at the television "Get on with it!" and "We GET it already!"
But it works out in a satisfying way. And for a movie where Jim Carrey and Kirsten Dunst give performances I'd be keen to see again, it's just enough. Charlie Kaufman . . . I'm watching you . . .
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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