Most people my age remember Chris Connelly as the poor man’s Kurt Loder. If you don’t know who either of those people are, you’re probably a tween who sometimes wonders what the “M” in MTV stands for. But I digress, a while back (maybe about a year), Chris Connelly said something on the B.S. Report (ESPN personality Bill Simmons’ podcast) that totally changed the way I watch movies.
He said, “A star makes the movie he wants to make.” Which is simple enough, but then he expounded on it. He described a theory of Premiere magazine, the basic premise of the theory was that because stars can choose any movie they want to, the choices they eventually make tells a lot about about them personally. He used two examples to explain the theory.
First Will Smith.
Will Smith is the biggest movie star on the planet. He’s last ten movies have grossed over one-hundred million dollars each. At the time of the podcast, Smith’s last two movies where Hancock and Seven Pounds. Two starkly different films, but Connelly made two interesting arguments for perhaps why he made them. Hancock is a movie about a super hero who feels like no one can possibly understand him, but then (spoiler alert) the movie flips as he meets another super hero (Charlize Theron) and, all of sudden, he finally has someone in his life that understands what he’s going through. Connelly draws a metaphor between this and Smith’s real life. That Smith is a gigantic movie star (kind of like a super hero) and that, possibly, he felt alone, until he met and married a force of nature like Jada Pinkett who can totally understand how he feels and what he’s going through. Then Connelly talks about Seven Pounds as an “expiation of guilt” that many very successful people feel about achieving success and feeling a need to give back. That second one seems like a bit of a reach, but I guess it’s possible.
Second Tom Cruise.
Pre-openly crazy Tom Cruise was arguably the biggest movie star ever, peaking right at Jerry Maguire. The next two films Cruise decided to make were Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia. In Connelly’s words, Eyes Wide Shut was the “culmination of Cruise’s career”, that Cruise always wanted to work with the best and most legendary filmmakers, whether it was Sydney Pollack on The Firm, Rob Reiner on A Few Good Men, Oliver Stone on Born on the Fourth of July, Barry Levinson on Rain Man or Scorsese on The Color of Money, and this gave him a chance to work with Stanley Kubrick, the most legendary and reclusive of them all. Connelly then examined Magnolia, which is pretty easy to decipher, Cruise plays a character with serious father issues, this is not unlike Tom Cruise’s real life relationship with his own abusive father. See, that was simple.
So, why am I telling you this? Because today, in the haze of laziness, I turned on HBO and watched Bruce Almighty (which I’ve seen before, but never through the Connelly prism).
Bruce Almighty, for all intensive purposes, is a very -eh- movie, that I’m sure no one ever thinks about. It’s not terrible, it’s also not that great. It’s just a pretty forgettable movie. But, the premise of the movie, and Jim Carrey’s decision to make the movie got me thinking (once again, looking at it through the Connelly Prism).
Why did Jim Carrey, a star, choose to make this movie? What does it say about him?
Well, watching it, I thought it was pretty obvious.
The film is about Bruce (played by Jim), who works at as a news reporter, mostly doing “the light side of the news.” While Bruce is good at what he does, he desperately wants to be a serious anchorman, seeing it as a step up from his mostly comic field pieces. He eventually get’s God’s powers, comedy ensues, becomes anchor, realizes it’s not actually what he wants, somewhere in there he looses his girlfriend, gives up his God power, then gets his girlfriend back, then goes back to his zany field reporter job and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
Okay, so what does this say about Jim Carrey?
Well, let’s look at his career. In the 90s Jim Carrey was a super nova. The Mask, Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, Lair Lair, all established him as the top physical comedian in the universe. But then, seeking some critical respect, he made The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. Both were grounded in comedy, but each had much less sophomoric tones than his previous pieces. Then, in 2001, Jim made The Majestic. A serious drama. It flopped commercially and failed critically. The next feature Jim Carrey made was Bruce Almighty. He hasn’t made a dramatic film since (I think the Motion Picture Association has officially expunged The Number 23 from the records).
Bruce Almighty is basically about a man who is not happy with his life. He feels that he’s not respected and wants to be taken seriously. In a key scene God tell’s Bruce, “You have a divine spark. You have a gift for bringing joy and laughter to the world.” Bruce (aka Jim) learns this only after his failed attempt at seriousness. After the realization he returns to his funny guy roots.
Jim Carrey’s career has basically followed that same arc. Be funny, but not taken seriously (The Mask, Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, Lair Lair). Turn serious, but not be happy (The Majestic). Go back to being the funny guy people liked you for originally (Bruce Almighty and the rest of his filmography).
And that’s why Bruce Almighty matters – kind of.