Who Is This God Person, Anyway?
It's an intriguing question, isn't it, for all that it's been done to death by pub philosophers and lazy celebrity interviews in the media - what would you do if, for just a few days, you had all the powers and wisdom of Jim Carrey? Almost certainly something more
worthwhile than what Carrey himself manages would be the uncharitable view, but it's one that's well and truly supported by Carrey's latest vehicle, Bruce Almighty, directed by Tom Shadyac.
This is essentially a really loose adaptation of HG Wells' The Man Who Could Work Miracles, though of course all the great man's wit and intelligence is slathered beneath a thick coating of Hollywood sentimentality. Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a local TV reporter who yearns to be a serious journalist but instead gets lumbered with feel good stories and the 'local eccentric' spot that older British researchers will remember from Nationwide. (This might be a not-very-subtle comment on the state of Carrey's own career - the man clearly
longs for critical recognition for his serious roles - The Truman Show, Man in the Moon, etc - but seems resigned to the fact that his audience is only really interested in Carrey the goofy, living 'toon - but this isn't explored.)
Bruce is certain that God is out to get him, because, hey, he gets to go on TV a lot, he has a fairly nice apartment, he drives a sports car, and his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) looks like Jennifer Aniston. Yeah, life can be a bitch sometimes, can't it. But after a particularly protracted bout of blasphemy provoked by somebody else getting the news reading job Bruce wants, God gets sick of all the whinging and decides to do something about it. Not, as you might expect (or indeed wish), by introducing Carrey to a well-placed thunderbolt, but by appearing in the guise of Morgan Freeman and bestowing omnipotence upon our hero, so that he (or perhaps now He) may learn that being God isn't all it's cracked up to be.
And, yea, Carrey learns that while it's nice to be important, it's more important to be nice. And that not everyone can get everything they want. And that every deed has consequences both good and bad. And that - oh, I can't go on. It's a load of predictable schmaltzy crap, as you can probably tell.
However it would be remiss of me if I were to give the impression that this is a film utterly without merit, because it isn't - quite. Morgan Freeman seems quite incapable of giving a bad performance, and he invests God with warmth and wisdom and decency without making Him too irritating. Inevitably, of course, he's not in the film nearly enough - I would much rather have had the film follow what God gets up to on His holiday while Bruce is in charge, even if this would just be seventy-five minutes of Freeman watching roller-hockey. Jennifer Aniston is sweet and rather touching as Bruce's long-suffering girlfriend and does get some very funny scenes. Because, yes, there are some funny bits in this film - clever ideas, witty lines, unexpected sight gags.
But for most of the rest of the time the film abandons any attempt at subtlety or wit, Shadyac opting instead to favour big special-effects sight gags and the undulating anomaly that is Jim Carrey's face. Carrey spends most of the film gurning and thrashing about like a man with a severe neurological condition. We are clearly supposed to find this loveably off-the-wall, but I suspect the urge to have at him with an axe will be the response of most right-minded individuals. He does get some laughs - a pre-omnipotence scene with him imploding during a live TV broadcast is actually very funny, while the scenes of him revelling in his new powers have a manic exuberance that's rather winning (pity they just reminded me of The Mask, but never mind...).
And to be totally fair to Carrey, overacting aside, most of the problems are in the script. Bruce seems like such a totally self-centred ingrate at the start of the film that he's almost impossible to like. The completely trivial and selfish way he uses his powers don't help allay this impression much, either, and his eventual conversion to being a good and caring person just doesn't ring true (watching Carrey trying to portray a man overcome with remorse, despair, and resignation is, in this particular instance, rather like watching Bruce Forsyth
have a crack at King Lear).
In the end this is just a very lazy and uneven film, trying to vault nimbly from broad physical slapstick to touching romantic comedy to a fuzzy, feel good conclusion. It fails completely, and the different styles don't mesh at all. The final act isn't much more than a tidal wave of syrup which eventually sweeps away everyone concerned (yes, not even Morgan Freeman can stem the flow). I physically felt quite queasy leaving the theatre, and wouldn't recommend this film to anyone (unless they were equipped with a blindfold and earplugs, and felt in desperate need of a nap). Bruce Almighty = bag of sh*tey. If 'I' was
God, I'd sue.
Katharine Hepburn 1907-2003
Having said that, being God must have its advantages, always assuming it's a real job (apologies for doubting your existence if you're reading this, Sir, it's just my university training kicking in). Heaven is a smarter, wittier and brighter place this week after the
arrival of Katharine Hepburn.
I must confess my first reaction upon hearing Hepburn had died was thinking 'What, again?' - like many of my generation, it was quite easy to get her mixed up with the other Hepburn - another icon ultimately afflicted with a horribly undignified, uncharacteristic disease. Her reclusiveness didn't help much either - like the other great legends of her generation, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, she knew when to gracefully leave the public eye.
And it's a terrible thing to confess, but all too easy now - for someone who claims to know a bit about films, there are still so many classics I know only vaguely, by reputation if at all. In Hepburn's case I've only seen two of her films, one of which The African Queen, is legendary and exceedingly solidly made and acted, but a little chintzy for my taste. The other, though, is Bringing Up Baby, as close to 100 minutes of utter, boundless joy as I've ever known, an inexpressibly wonderful film, a delight from beginning to end.
So, because I know and love Bringing Up Baby so well, and because there are so many other films of hers that I don't know at all and probably should, Hepburn's passing has moved me. Astronomy teaches us that when stars die, the light they give off continues to shine for many years afterward. And none will ever shine quite so bright as the stars of Hollywood's golden age, the last of whom is no longer with us. Lucky God. Lucky heaven.