It’s not that I’m trying to figure out what made Jim Carrey funny in the mid-1990s, it’s just that in thinking about what was funny in the mid-1990s, I sometimes amazed that he was so huge.
Maybe I should rephrase that, or at least explain what the heck I’m talking about because that introduction is poor and it looks like I’m starting in the middle of things. Next week’s post will be an episode of the podcast about Reality Bites, the Winona Ryder film about life after graduation. It’s one of those films that has become … well, I don’t want to say seminal because that would be giving it too much credit, but it definitely is one of those films that stuck with much of my generation. More on why next week, but I bring it up because around the same time that Reality Bites hit theaters, so did Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. This film is up there with movies like Billy Madison or Dude, Where’s My Car? or Paul Blart: Mall Cop. You look at them and say, “This is going to be ridiculous.” In essence, you are right, but the ridiculousness of the movie is what nets them tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.
Such were Jim Carrey movies in the mid-1990s, especially in 1994. The man, who up until that point had been best known for being the white guy on In Living Color (and well, one day I’ll get to Doing Time on Maple Drive) starred in the aforementioned Ace Ventura flick as well as The Mask and Dumb and Dumber, each one of which was an enormous hit and rocketed him to superstardom. I remember that I enjoyed two out of the three of them (I actually have never seen The Mask) because they are, at their core, pretty funny. But as life went on and I got older, I remember that Carrey’s movies, at least to me, didn’t hold up the way that Caddyshack or Airplane! do. So what is it? Has my sense of humor faded or my heart shriveled up and died? I’m not sure.
Let’s do a quick test and look at this scene from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective …
And this one from Dumb and Dumber …
Now, at a glance this stuff is funny. Carrey’s got one of those faces that looks ridiculous to begin with, so he’s not afraid to just act silly and really let loose. And in both scenes, the director just lets him do his schtick. But at the same time, even two watchings of either scene gets annoying after a little while–and this is coming from someone who can watch Chris Farley do the “I killed my sale” scene in Tommy Boy multiple times and thinks that never gets old.
I think perhaps it’s that these scenes are the type of stuff that your annoying younger brother or cousin would find hilarious and repeat over and over and over and over. The tutu bit in the lobby with instant replay goes on way too long and is the type of thing that your hyperactive cousin would repeat out of nowhere in the middle of a conversation.
But hey, maybe that’s what we needed in the mid-1990s. There’s a sense that maybe, after a few years of a crappy economy and serious “message” movies winning Oscars, audiences wanted something totally ridiculous and didn’t want to have to think when they went to the theater. After all, the highest grossing film of the year was Forrest Gump, a feel-good nostalgia-fest and within the next few years we’d have Toy Story, Batman Forever, Independence Day, and Armageddon make huge amounts of money–not exactly thinking man’s movies.
But like I said, I just can’t find them funny anymore (and hey, maybe it’s just because I’m cranky), even though I know that Carrey can be …
(and yes, I know what you’re thinking … I don’t know how Courtney Love stayed in that dress either).