When Jim Carrey burst onto the scene in the 1990s, he became known for his over-the-top style. By playing heightened characters like Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura in his titular film, and Stanley in The Mask, Carrey solidified his skills in physical comedy, wacky antics, and out-there performances. If a movie needed an actor to go to extraordinary physical lengths to make someone laugh, Carrey was your guy. But after his initial round of slapstick comedies, he began taking on more and more dramatic roles. With serious takes in films like I Love You Phillip Morris and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Carrey has shown that he's capable of impressive dramatic work as well as comedy. Yet it's be wrong to honor his serious efforts without recognizing where it all started: The Truman Show. And with the 1998 movie leaving Netflix come Oct. 31, now is the perfect time to revisit The Truman Show and appreciate Carrey's dramatic chops.
By the mid-'90s, Carrey's exaggerated acting style had made him a good fit for a variety of roles. He seemed the perfect choice to play the Riddler, Batman's clown-like villain in Batman Forever, and in the great Liar, Liar, his few moments of straight-man comedic abilities were overshadowed by his intense physical comedy and ability to make audience members bust a gut laughing. Even as The Cable Guy, a role in which Carrey channeled some seriously creepy, psychopathic qualities, it was still in the realm of comedic exaggeration; an over-the-top satire of a character. It wasn't until The Truman Show that audiences really got to see Carrey playing a "real" guy, one without magical powers or curses, just real feelings.
Made just as the reality TV phenomenon was increasing towards the turn of the new millennium, The Truman Show tells the story of 30-year-old Truman Burbank, a man who has no idea that his entire life has been filmed and is being watched on television around the world by millions of people. It features Carrey's signature nice-guy charm, for sure; as Truman goes about his day, you can see glimpses of the actor's goofball persona, his rubber mask-like facial abilities, and his hilarious timing. But as The Truman Show goes on, and Truman himself becomes more and more aware of his reality, new Carrey abilities pop up: paranoia, despair, and longing. Watching the film in 1998, viewers realized suddenly that the star was able to capture genuine emotions unlike anything he had ever put into his other roles.
And even in the lighter moments of The Truman Show, there was a seriousness to Carrey's new acting style. No matter what happened to him, the actor kept Truman relatable. As a viewer, connecting on an emotional level to Carrey's work in Ace Ventura or the Riddler seems impossible, but his performance as Truman is so utterly human that it's heartbreaking.
Thankfully, The Truman Show proved that Carrey could take on these more serious, dramatic roles, while still maintaining his signature flare. The year after the film's release, the actor played Andy Kaufman in The Man on the Moon, still tapping into his goofy, weird capabilities, but bringing that Truman side of himself as well when dealing with some of Kaufman's more serious scenes. Carrey earned a Golden Globe award for his performance, and it signaled even bigger things to come. In 2004, he gave his most quiet and reserved performance ever as Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ; a role that earned him another Golden Globe nomination. More than a decade after its release, the film has become a cult classic and favorite among many, with Carrey's affecting performance a particular highlight.
Even now, Carrey continues to push his dramatic abilities in movies. His upcoming film, True Crimes, finds him tackling a bizarre Polish case in a thriller setting. If if weren't for his stunning performance in The Truman Show, directors and producers might not have known what he could tap into as an actor, and he might never have grown out of just being that rubber-faced, physical comedian. So give The Truman Show a watch before it leaves Netflix at the end of the month, and honor the movie that first showed Carrey as the versatile actor he's known as today.
Images: Paramount, Giphy