Friday, August 31, 2012

The Return Of The Jim Carey Comedy, Sort Of . . . Fun With Dick And Jane

The Good: Decent story, Interesting characters, Moments of humor
The Bad: Radically inconsistent tone, Fairly typical acting, Jim Carey's standard
The Basics: When Dick loses his awesome job and the local economy tanks, Dick and Jane lose everything they have built, snap and begin to retake their lives through robbery.

Back when I was in high school, Jim Carey comedy movies were the big thing. He was racking up box office receipts with such comedic gems as The Mask, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, and other movies I refused on principle to see. Having to make a snap decision on what movies to get out of the library to review yesterday, I ended up grabbing Fun With Dick And Jane, which features Jim Carey returning with typically "Jim Carey" style antics, which include throwing himself around, making bizarre facial expressions and, in this case, a parody musical number in an elevator. But Fun With Dick And Jane, which turns out to be a remake of a 1977 movie, is not a typical Jim Carey movie, or considering the directions he's headed in now, perhaps "traditional" Jim Carey movie would be better. This is not a traditional Jim Carey movie, it is dark and real and exploring themes many of us commoners live with.

Dick Harper is happily married with his wife Jane, living in suburbia, generally happy with his life and his fabulous job. When he earns a huge promotion, Dick is able to convince his wife to quit her hellish job and the two make big plans. The next day, literally, the company Dick works for collapses completely and within three months, the Harpers are destitute. Furious about losing everything, having played the game like good Americans, Dick sets out to take back his life. With Jane's help, the two begin to rob their way back into the upper class (sorry, but a $650,000 house is NOT middle class!) and when the time is right, they figure out the biggest score that will keep them set for life.

What works about Fun With Dick And Jane, a largely un-fun movie, is that it finally tackles some real problems people face in a way that we face them. Dick and Jane continue to lose and despite all his best efforts, Dick cannot land a job, much less an interview. When people in positions of authority talk about the economy and opportunities in the United States, they often speak as if the nation is tripping over itself to benefit the common citizens, that no matter where one goes in the US, there are opportunities to use the talents one has or has trained for just waiting for someone to apply. Reality is different and in many parts of the country, those tools we use to get ahead - i.e. a college education - can impede getting a job (manufacturing jobs and simple service jobs will often not look at resumes with college education because those people are "overqualified" for their jobs and they assume they will simply leave when something better comes along) and Fun With Dick And Jane is the first movie I've seen to actually show that. Dick's frustration over getting knocked off the truck of migrant workers ("We should report that guy!") is one of the most clever and real exhortations of the problems workers face in the United States.

And Fun With Dick And Jane devastatingly, if subtly, and correctly links the acquisition of material wealth with happiness. Dick and Jane are only romantic with one another when their financial problems are not overwhelming. They barely touch one another during Dick's unemployed phase and that's especially clever of the writers and director Dean Parisot. We tell children - and ourselves - "Money can't buy you love," but anyone who has been unemployed or underemployed and tried to meet a romantic partner or make a romantic connection will tell you in the United States, we judge one another terribly on employment and income rather than personality and ideology.

What makes Fun With Dick And Jane watchable is that after the agonizing destruction of Dick and Jane's lives - which is difficult to watch, especially for those who live with such struggles in reality - the movie becomes the ultimate working class fantasy, taking from those who have to live the way they do. Anyone who is a poor worker will tell you that it's baffling that CEOs in the US can make an unlimited amount of money off the backs of the workers (in some countries, that is capped, where the CEO cannot make more than 24 times the lowest paid employee). In Fun With Dick And Jane, the viewers are treated to watching the execution of the fantasy as Dick and Jane take off banks (federally insured) and the super rich who have humiliated or exploited them (used them to achieve their status). It's refreshing and enjoyable to watch.

Of course, if you've never been so poor as to look at your monthly bills and say "I'll have to rob a bank this month in order to pay all these," then perhaps Fun With Dick And Jane would be more disturbing than enjoyable.

What does not work as well as it could are some of the Jim Carey antics. There is physical comedy - a bored Dick vaulting around his house - and the musical number by Dick in the elevator on his way up to the fifty-fourth floor that seem out of place in the movie. Much of the humor is more cerebral, like thanking Kenneth Lay and Arthur Anderson at the end of the movie. When I noted that the movie clocks in at exactly 90 minutes, this began to make sense; the script needed some filler in order to make the minimum recommended movie time. It's a sad way to use that time, but we'll let it slide.

In some ways, Fun With Dick And Jane is the movie that Friends With Money (reviewed here!) aspired to be. Dick and Jane lose almost everything and the disconnect with reality and their dreams creates a very real frustration. Unlike Jennifer Aniston's character in Friends With Money, for whom poverty does not seem materially evident, Dick and Jane LOSE their gains in order to keep what little they have. There are consequences for the loss of their jobs in material possessions and social status.

Fun With Dick And Jane might not always be fun or consistently a comedy or a dark social piece, but it ends the balance being worthwhile and worth a watch. And for those who have read my critique of Carey as chameleon actor, Fun With Dick And Jane finds him continuing his Billy Campbell impression from Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind.

For other works with Tea Leoni, please visit my reviews of:
Tower Heist
The Family Man


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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