The Truman Show

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

June 4, 1998

Because Jim Carrey's humor is broad and scatological and most of his films are less than cerebral, it's easy to unfairly dismiss his talent. With The Truman Show, however, Carrey can now be remembered for more than singing out his rectum. Whereas Carrey's other films can be summarized in a sentence (or in the case of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, a groan of agony), The Truman Show defies easy classification. It's equal parts surrealist fantasy, social satire, mystery and adventure. The story is often funny, creepy and oddly moving. In short, it's as engaging as it is bizarre.

Carrey tones down his usual hysteria to play Truman Burbank, who for decades has been television's biggest star. His image is seen all over the world, but Truman knows nothing about his fame.

Adopted as an unwanted baby by a corporation, Truman has been raised in an enormous set where every waking moment of his life is broadcast to millions. Even his sleep gets ratings. Part of his massive appeal is due to the fact that he is the only "real" thing in his world. All of the people in his small community are actors, including his wife (Laura Linney from Primal Fear) and his best friend (Noah Emerich). Even the sky, which sometimes rains only on Truman, is phony. After 30-some years of obliviousness, Truman begins to catch on and tries to escape, but the show's producer (Ed Harris) has carefully rigged the set against him.

The storyline is fairly simple, but the approach that screenwriter Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) and director Peter Weir (Fearless) take isn't. The two reveal the setup, but leave several details hidden until the film is done. Weir could be accused of going overboard with the weirdness, but most of his decisions make sense. The film is loaded with unforgettable images. For example, the town looks like a satanic Mayberry, with garishly bright colors and streets that are clean to the point of sterility. The camera angles look odd, but that's because viewers of the film are experiencing the "show" the way the television audience would (through hidden lenses). Carrey's final scenes look like a René Magritte painting come to life.

While the movie has a fascinating setup and is stylishly handled, its chief asset is Carrey's performance. By saving his facial twists and wisecracks for special occasions, Carrey gives his most likeable performance to date and is often funnier than in his lesser comedies. Carrey projects a sympathetic quality that makes even the most dour moments in The Truman Show compelling. As a result, the film becomes more than a snide potshot at media sensationalism.

The Truman Show pushes Carrey and audiences into new directions. It's a tricky journey, but it's never less than rewarding. (PG) Rating: 9/10




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Read the Lybarger Links interview with the director of The Truman Show, Peter Weir.


This page was last updated on 06/04/98.
Ó 1998 Dan Lybarger


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