Movie Reviews

It Was Better Than I Expected: A Review of the Jim Carrey Film Bruce Almighty

Written by Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk
Directed by Tom Shadyac

I confess to not being a Jim Carrey fan in any of his incarnations. I never liked Ace Ventura, The Cable Guy, or Dumb and Dumber. While I thought The Truman Show was a fine film, I saw nothing particularly spectacular about Carrey’s performance – it was Ed Harris’ that stuck with me more.

As the lights came up, I’d have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Carrey portrays Bruce Nolan, a news reporter in Buffalo, New York who seems to get stuck with all of the “fluff” and human-interest stories most people scoff at. Yearning for credibility in holding an anchor position, Bruce loses it when a co-worker, Evan Baxter (portrayed by Steven Carell), whom he considers to be a weasel, is named the new anchor.

This leads to a lot of introspection into his own life, including at one point comparing himself to an ant on an anthill where God is holding the magnifying-glass.

It’s no surprise, considering the title of the movie, that God eventually calls out to Bruce. Since Bruce seems to have all of the answers, God gives him the same powers and takes a “vacation”, telling him to handle everything.

Carrey does a terrific job blending humor with more poignant moments throughout the film. At first, he uses his new powers in a frat-boy manner, getting crude revenge on some street thugs who roughed him up a day before; using the wind to lift a woman’s skirt, enlarging his girlfriend’s boobs, etc. The next mode he slips into is selfishness, causing things to happen which benefit him while greatly ignoring their effects on the rest of the world.

I’ve been in the position he’s been in myself, especially over the last nine months or so. I’ve asked the same questions of “Why me God?” Although the points of what are happening to him are exaggerated a bit for effect and humor, Bruce is in a place in his life that many people can relate to, and that’s the charm of the movie (although I don’t know many people who are quite as self-absorbed as Bruce is in this film). Often we pray and pray for what we believe is the things we want in life, not realizing that sometimes God answers our prayers to what we truly need, and not what we are asking for.

The writers of the film, Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk, seem to really “get” that bit of spirituality. They convey this message in a not-so-subtle way, but it’s in a story that teenagers will enjoy. Many in this age group can benefit greatly from hearing that, as it’s an age when typically they think the whole world is against them and nothing ever goes right for them.

I enjoyed Carrey in this film, although I don’t feel that his performance was anything unique. I could see Robin Williams in his younger days managing this role. That is the one actor whom Carrey reminds me of the most, although I think Williams has had a bit more success with his more dramatic roles than Carrey. I try to picture Carrey in the title role in The World According to Garp and I don’t know if he could have given that role the same weight Willaims did.

However, there are certain parts of the character that don’t make sense. As the movie wears on and I saw just how self-absorbed the character actually was, I wondered how come his girlfriend, Grace (portrayed by Jennifer Aniston), had stuck with him this long. There was nothing I could see deep in his personality that would keep her with him, unless it was the time apparently already invested in the relationship, combined with a need to “mother” him. (That the girlfriend is a daycare provider does seem to acknowledge this possibility). Is this Carrey’s fault or the fault of the writers?

Morgan Freeman is the best “God” I’ve seen since George Burns in the first Oh God!. His quiet demeanor brings dignity to the role. I think this was probably one of the best casting decisions made as he really compliments Carrey. The scenes with the two men together are the best in the film, in my opinion. While Carrey has emotional outbursts and rails at God, Freeman conveys the patience a teacher has with a student.

Jennifer Aniston did a good job, although she wasn’t given anything I’d consider a stretch beyond her character of Rachel on Friends. She has one comic scene when she walks in on the impossible-to-train dog Grace and Bruce co-own sitting on the toilet reading a newspaper, but other than that I felt there was no real stretch of her talent here.

The film is rated PG-13, and the first time we saw it, I was worried about taking my kids to see it, especially the second-grader and (almost) 3 year old in tow (this was the 1:45 show – packed with kids all ages). However, my oldest one had already seen 8 Mile and had sex education in her health class. The most objectionable scenes are ones of Bruce having his meltdown where he gives his co-workers the middle finger and curses at them. Jennifer Aniston discusses her boobs and there’s plenty of sexual innuendo in one scene when Bruce first comes home with all his “powers”. The innuendo went right over the head of my second grader, although she did point out every time he cursed to me. My baby fell asleep – so there’s his criticism.

What did the seventh-graders think of it? For the most part, they liked it. At times I think the message was too strong, but perhaps that is something that will cause it to stay with them.

It’s a bit on the sentimental side, with the message that sometimes we should be satisfied with our lot in life because having what we think we desire often isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s not a movie I’d seek out again or purchase on DVD, but my dreading going to see this with the kids was unfounded.

3 replies »

  1. The Truman Show has been the only Jim Carrey movie that I liked. I skipped Bruce Almighty and I’m not interested in seeing it… I was horrified when The after school program coordinator showed Ace Ventura to my 1st and 2nd grade sons. I was upset when they had some questions (I hadn’t seen the movie) so rented it and watched after they went to bed. I had some strong words for the coordinator and the Principal the next morning…

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