Released 2000. Comedy directed by the Farrelly Brothers
Me, Myself & Irene is yet another outrageous comedy from the masters of bad-taste, the Farrelly brothers. As anyone who has seen any, or all of the Farrelly brothers films can attest, there are no taboo topics, no sacred cows, and no sensibilities safe from their particular brand of irreverent, scatological, slapstick satire. In other movies, they have exploited such hypersensitive topics as Down syndrome (Something About Mary), conjoined twins (Stuck on You) and obesity (Shallow Hal). With Me Myself & Irene they have added the subject of mental illness, more specifically (though inaccurately), schizophrenia, to the list.
The film tells the twisted tale of Charlie Baileygates (played by Jim Carrey), a Rhode Island State Police trooper. Charlie is the classic example of a good-natured chump, a pathetic pushover who avoids confrontation at all costs. As a result he is constantly taken advantage of by others, including his unfaithful wife who runs off with an African-American little person driving a limo. Charlie is left to raise his three over-sized, foul-mouthed yet good-natured children on his own.
In an amusing twist, the children are of mixed-race, even though Charlie and his ex-wife are as white as Wonder bread. While the audience of course makes the connection between the children's race and the limo driver, Charlie is oblivious to this fact. Either his trusting nature does not allow him to see the obvious, or he has repressed the knowledge deep in his psyche, along with all the other affronts and indignations he suffers on a daily basis.
It is this tendency to repress his feelings that sets up the main premise of the movie. It seems that Charlie's inability to express his true emotions and natural impulse to avoid personal conflicts has resulted in his being afflicted with a multiple-personality disorder. In order to vent his pent up hostility and emotional conflicts, Charlie's subconscious has created the alternate personality of Hank. Hank is the extreme opposite of Charlie; whereas Charlie is apologetic, self-deprecating and submissive, Hank is an egotistical, violent blowhard who thrives on confrontation.
When Charlie is faced with conflicts that are too emotionally charged for his fragile ego to handle, Hank emerges to deal with matters. Unfortunately for Charlie, Hank's methods of conflict resolution owe more to the philosophy of Atilla the Hun than that of Gandhi and usually have catastrophic consequences, which Charlie is left to contend with. The situation is further complicated by the fact that not only does Charlie have no memory of what Hank has done, he is also unaware of his existence. The subsequent plot developments, involving a cross-country excursion, a budding romance, and a pursuit by hit-men, are of little consequence, as they exist primarily to provide extreme situations that provoke Charlie's hilarious transformations into Hank.
Carrey occupies the center of the movie, so those who are not a fan of his comedic style might wish to avoid the film altogether. However, they would be missing out on a real treat. As Charlie, Carrey delivers a performance of unexpected depth. Though his characteristic broad, physical comedic talents are still very much in evidence, the portrayal is tempered with a healthy dose of pathos and a certain amount of heightened realism. Carrey succeeds in creating a character who engages our sympathies, even as we laugh at his suffering and the outrageous predicaments he finds himself in. While both the Charlie and Hank personae are certainly extreme exaggerations, the Charlie character is convincingly "real" in depicting a painfully shy and socially inadequate individual just as Hank is authentically menacing. It is to Carrey's credit that his talents have developed to the point where he can deliver a performance that is both over the top, and restrained when required. Some of the scenes involving the Renée Zellweger's character and the scenes with his children in particular, showcase Carrey's range as an actor and his ability to convey genuine tenderness and affection in his performances.
With their stunning bad taste and cheerfully offensive excursions into racial and sexual comedy, the Farrelly brothers have given much amusement, and in the process become Hollywood's licensed jesters in their own carefully delineated field of non-PC entertainment. Me, Myself & Irene, starring Jim Carrey, is their new venture. Broader than broad, it is written, produced and directed by Peter and Bobby, with credits for Mike Cerrone and Bradley Thomas on script and production.
And they give us everything we hope and expect of them - plus a bit more. Frantic masturbation scene involving a sweet young woman? Check. Pointlessly violent assault on a defenceless animal? Check. Jokes involving racial and minority groups? Check. But there's one group in particular to be offended - retards! (I am quoting the exquisitely provocative formulation used by Matt Dillon in There's Something About Mary.) Peter and Bobby raise the issue of those who are, as they say, mentally challenged and appear to add a raucous challenge of their own.
The brothers get away with most of these flourishes on account of their sheer insouciant conviction and comic brio, plus the unspoken understanding that the jibes are a slap at white liberal condescension. But it isn't obvious that the gags about crazy people quite come off - of which more in a moment.
Jim Carrey gives us his usual body-popping, face-squeezing, crowd-pleasing masterclass in physical comedy. With his open, innocent expression, buzz cut and air of perpetual perplexity, he looks like no one so much as Dick York in the 60s TV show Bewitched.
He plays Charlie Baileygates, an all-American white-bread regular guy and Rhode Island state trooper whose life is shattered when his bride falls in love with the, ahem, vertically challenged African-American limo driver who ferries them home from the church. She runs off, leaving Charlie with three black triplets, and Charlie is in denial about his feelings, until they boil over 15 years later in the form of a bizarre split personality. Or, as this film insists on putting it, schizophrenia. Thereafter Charlie's Jekyll and Hyde personalities both fall in love with a young woman called Irene (Renée Zellweger), who is on the run from corrupt federal officials led by the sinister Lt Gerke (a reliably excellent Chris Cooper).
There is a scene at the very beginning of this film in which the Farrellys' horrible genius is deployed to its fullest. On his wedding day, poor, inoffensive Charlie inadvertently offends his small black driver, who erupts with rage and ends up attacking him with what look like martial-arts nunchakas. Naturally, only a real nincompoop could object to this scene; in its sheer excessive outrageousness, it is brilliant, but it also functions unmistakably as a little pre-emptive strike at any uptight bores who are thinking of whining about offensiveness. Here is a funny black midget, it is saying, and here is a joke about someone accidentally offending him. OK?
Then there is the uproarious scene in which Charlie and Irene find a dead cow in the road; trying to carry it out of the way, Charlie discovers it is actually still alive but in agony. So he tries to kill it, first by emptying his pistol into its head and then by strangling it, while the persistent beast moos merrily away. It's inspired in its own delirious way, and let down only by the fact that it is obviously some sort of animatronic cow.
The inevitable self-pleasuring scene comes when Irene enters Charlie's hotel room, dismayed to find him with an official police photo of her, surrounded by sticky crumpled tissues and an absurdly large dispenser of hand-cream. This hardly has the inventiveness of the legendary Cameron-Diaz-hair-gel sequence from There's Something About Mary, which was actually a comment of tactless inspiration on the way modern media encourage male consumers literally and figuratively to jerk off over female images like the miraculously beautiful Diaz. But it does have that bull-in-a-china-shop aptness, an acknowledgement of the open secret of adult male masturbation rarely found in any other film of any genre.
But now we come back to the "schizophrenia" issue, which has had mental health charities up in arms. The split-personality device gives Carrey an opportunity for his usual bravura dual-character playing, in the tradition of the Nutty Professors of Jerry Lewis and Eddie Murphy, and Steve Martin in All of Me. His condition is repeatedly described as "advanced involuntary schizophrenia". Do the Farrelly boys realise that "schizophrenia" is an ignorant solecism here? Worryingly, the answer isn't clear.
The classic definition of a gentleman is someone who never gives offence accidentally. Something similar applies to the Farrellys' brand of non-PC mischief if it is to be successful. But here it looks oddly as if the brothers have simply blundered. Here their sophistication, and their attack radar for mealy-mouthed liberal sensibilities, have gone a bit wrong.
The gag rate of Me, Myself & Irene falls off exponentially in the last half of the picture, and there's a bit of straining to make the plot ends tie up. There's a lot of crazy energy and debonair disregard for the rules of liberal good taste; but when the laughs fall away and the comedy-nous falters, these things get very wearing indeed.