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Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: Liar, Liar vs My Best Friend’s Wedding

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Tired of all of the gritty, serious, award-winning movies we’ve been covering so far? Well, today should be the salve to that particular problem. It’s sort of our semi-official big budget mainstream comedy bracket and it features two of the biggest movie stars of the time in Jim Carrey and Julia Roberts. Both easily eclipsed the $100 million mark domestically and around $300 million worldwide. These hits came at particularly good times for both Carrey and Roberts.
Let’s talk about it!

We are now done with the top half of our first round which focused primarily in prestige and award-winning style films. Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction follow-up Jackie Brown beat out David Fincher’s The Game to see if it can unseat critical and awards darlings like Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, and Boogie Nights. But that won’t start happening for several days yet. Instead, we’ll be focused on mostly comedies for the next four days.

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Jim Carrey had been toiling in comedy clubs and mostly small roles in movies and TV until he broke out on the Fox comedy troupe series “In Living Color” and cashed in with the one-two-three punch of hit box office comedies Ace Ventura: Pet DetectiveDumb and Dumber and The Mask in 1994. His over-the-top style of physical comedy, while widely appealing, also had its detractors who felt like his characters had little to no true inner life, making them hard to relate to beyond a childish chortle. His broad performances in the following year’s successful, but critically panned sequels Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Batman Forever did nothing to dispel this feeling and added to the fear that he might just be pumping out movies as fast as he could before the audience got tired of him and his fifteen minutes was up.

Matters took a turn for the worse in 1996 when he actually took a bit of a chance with his material. His performance style didn’t change much, but lots of moviegoers found Ben Stiller’s Cable Guy, co-starring Matthew Broderick, to be too dark and mean-spirited. The satirical material was more appropriate for an audience that liked smart films like Network or King of Comedy, but wasn’t nearly sophisticated enough for that crowd. Meanwhile, Carrey’s core audience was left scratching their heads and the movie, despite opening in the number one spot at the box office, quickly fell off a cliff and ended the year as only the 23rd highest-grossing movie of 1996. While that would be great for some movies, it meant that Cable Guy barely made back its production and marketing costs, a big disappointment for its producers. Maybe Carrey’s time at the top was done already? In response, 1997’s high concept Liar Liar, with its redemptive family man theme and easy lawyer jokes was right up the alley of mainstream audiences and had a huge opening weekend. The funnyman showed up onstage at the Oscars with his arms outstretched like on the Liar Liar poster and asked the enthusiastic crowd “…and how was your weekend?”

While Carrey’s rebound was relatively quick, Julia Roberts career had been gradually trickling out ever since her star-making turn as a hooker with a heart of gold in 1990’s Pretty Woman. Although she had seen some recognition from her Oscar-nominated appearance in Steel Magnolias with Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, and Darryl Hannah, this was something much bigger. Seemingly overnight she went from mildly famous to one for the biggest stars in the world. Her star pull single-handedly made Sleeping with the Enemy a pretty big hit the following year, but there were already chinks in the armor. Hook ranked highly for the year, but did not make the kind of profit that was expected of it, and Roberts’ performance as Tinkerbell was widely considered fair at best, and a matter of simply getting the biggest name rather than the best performer for the part. Her dramatic weepy of the same year was out-grossed by movies like The Doctor and King Ralph.

While she appeared to rebound with the John Grisham thriller The Pelican Brief in 1993, her People Magazine appearances and short-lived marriage to singer Lyle Lovett were getting more attention than her movies. When she and co-star Nick Nolte had a poor working relationship on I Love Trouble, the negative buzz had serious results, leaving the production drowned in the summer movie season and never ranking higher than fifth at the box office. All indications are that it lost a lot of money. Even when Roberts returned to a film that seemed to feature her to better advantage, 1995’s Something to Talk About really wasn’t anything more substantial than a base hit, and her mousy turn in the Jekyl/Hyde story Mary Reilly was an outright flop, pulling in less than $6 million. Her A-List status appeared to be a thing of the past. So when My Best Friend’s Wedding was greeted with such enthusiasm by both audiences and critics you could practically hear the sigh of relief from her camp.

Which star’s comeback movie has stayed in your good graces twenty years later? Vote here and then tell us about it in the comments section!

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Posted on January 22, 2017, in bracket game, comeback kid, comedy, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Liar Liar for sure! I’ve seen it a bahzillion times and it still cracks me up – even if it features the most annoying child actor of all time, short of that kid from Jerry Maguire…
    That scene where Fletcher roasts the boardroom full of suck-ups kills me every time. 😂 Epic Carrey comedy.

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    • The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Do a One-Joke Comedy

      https://dejareviewer.com/2017/04/04/the-right-way-and-the-wrong-way-to-do-a-one-joke-comedy/

      The Star

      Jim Carrey singlehandedly carries Liar Liar like a pro.Only a gifted actor can successfully do a one-joke movie, especially if the entire film rests on his shoulders. I know Jim Carrey had already done fine work in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask, transforming those films into something memorable purely through his performance. But Liar Liar is probably his finest hour. He lives up to his name by carrying this film by himself. He puts his face, body, voice, and soul through the wringer in the role of Fletcher Reede. He has to go from loving father to sleazy lawyer to jealous ex-husband, sometimes all in the same scene, and make the transitions believable and natural. And he pulls it off beautifully.

      Leslie Nielsen’s comedic talents are wasted as he tries to play the inept Mr. Magoo.Compare that to Leslie Nielsen in Mr. Magoo. Don’t get me wrong, Nielsen was great in The Naked Gun, Wrongfully Accused, and other ZAZ/Proft movies, and he can hold his own when he’s called upon to carry a film. But his talents are wasted in the role of Mr. Magoo. He’s a one-note character. It’s supposed to be funny when he gets into wacky hijinks because he can’t see, but it never generates much humor. Nielsen just acts aloof and he mumbles a lot, which is just like the Mr. Magoo cartoon character, but it doesn’t make for an interesting movie character. Nielsen was on the decline in his comedic acting, and it really shows in this film.

      The Movie’s Heart

      A one-joke movie desperately needs a heart. It should center on something relatable in order to connect with the audience. Liar Liar does this perfectly. When you boil it all down, the movie is about a father who loves his son. He keeps letting things get in the way of their relationship, but in the end he learns a valuable lesson and he’s ready to put his son first so he’ll never risk losing him again.

      What is at Mr. Magoo’s heart? When you boil everything down to its essence, what is it? Honestly, there is no heart to this film. It tries to imply one with Mr. Magoo’s nephew caring about him and a pretty girl played by Jennifer Garner, but that subplot doesn’t really go anywhere. Sadly, Mr. Magoo’s dog is the only likable character in the film. There is just nothing to relate to or feel happy or sad about in this movie.

      Character Growth

      Characters shouldn’t be stagnant. They should make choices and learn something about themselves or others by the end of the film. Fletcher is a lawyer who lies all the time, even to his young son. He can’t stop lying, even when honesty would actually help him. So it’s hilarious and heartbreaking to watch him try to cope with the fact that he cannot lie for 24 pivotal hours. At one point he is shocked when he declares himself to be a bad father. That’s a real turning point for him because he finally has to confront the painful truth about himself. He’s also horrified after he wins a big court case on a technicality and he realizes that he’s made a horrible mistake in so doing. He’s deprived two children of their loving father and put them solely in the hands of their hateful mother. He holds himself in contempt for his behavior, and it’s at that point that he finally realizes that he wants to be a good father, like the man he just destroyed. He desperately fights to keep his ex-wife and son from leaving him forever, and he promises to always be honest with his son, even after he regains the ability to lie.

      Mr. Magoo is the same at the end as he is in the beginning. He hasn’t grown or changed at all. And that’s a problem because he was insufferable at the start of the film. He never transforms into anything even approaching a likable character. There’s just a big zero when I try to think of him. We don’t even get to see him explain his way out of the mess his blindness got him into, and he still refuses to admit how poor his eyesight is when everything is over.

      New Ways to Be Funny

      The trick to making a one-joke movie work is to keep its core concept from getting stale. Liar Liar constantly finds new ways to be funny. At first, Fletcher is surprised when he finds himself unable to be subtle in his sexual innuendo to a couple of ladies. Then he finds himself speechless as he tries to describe his lie-filled legal case to a rival lawyer. The jokes up to this point have been great, but they’re in danger of becoming routine. The idea of being unable to lie has been firmly planted, and we can see where it’s going with the court case. So the movie takes a timeout to have Fletcher try to lie about the tiniest thing: the color of a pen. And it’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Then Fletcher breaks all kinds of traffic laws and has to admit them all to a traffic cop. And then we get two brilliant scenes back to back with his secretary and the boardroom. And it’s all capped off by his return to the courtroom, as well as an incredible bathroom fight with himself. Along the way, Fletcher learns that not only can’t he lie verbally, but he also can’t write a lie, nor can he ask a question when he knows the answer will be a lie. These revelations add more complications and offer additional opportunities for humor. It all builds to an ironic conclusion where it turns out that the truth is the answer to all of Fletcher’s problems.

      Mr. Magoo has quite a few obvious and lazy jokes, all of which center around the fact that Mr. Magoo can’t see clearly. Trying to describe the level of humor in this movie is like trying to describe the contents of a blank piece of paper. It’s pointless. There’s a botched jewel heist at the start of the film that is almost anti-funny in the way it plays out. Then Mr. Magoo finds himself in setup after setup for slapstick humor where the joke is usually that he accidentally hurts someone else while narrowly escaping serious injury himself. That’s pretty much the whole movie. There is no progression to the film, even though they change locations several times.

      Short Runtime

      A one-joke movie needs to be fairly short. It has to be just barely long enough to tell a good story. Liar Liar and Mr. Magoo are both 87 minutes long. Liar Liar uses its time wisely, spending the first half-hour setting up the fact that Fletcher is a good lawyer and an undependable father. We know the film’s stakes, the characters involved, and what they want to do. Then the rest of the film is free to hand the reins to Jim Carrey and let him do his thing. It’s perfectly paced, letting the jokes play out for the right amount of time and then come to a speedy resolution. But it never feels rushed. It’s controlled mania.

      The opening credits of Mr. Magoo is a cartoon, and then the film proper opens with a mess of character introductions. We sort of get to know the main characters, but everything feels hurried. The movie can’t wait to get to its first big comedic sequence, so it cuts short what should be a nice, slow scene. By the end of the opening scene, it’s unclear what most of the characters want or even who they are. This is a pattern for the rest of the film. It rushes from one scene to the next, constantly introducing new characters only to forget about them and move onto others. It all starts to feel like padding, and long before it reaches its climax in South America the movie has clearly run out of ideas, and it’s just trying to get to a respectable runtime.

      Outtakes

      If they’re going to include outtakes at the end of the film, they should make sure they’re funny. Every outtake in Liar Liar is pure gold. And it’s all building up to the part where the rival lawyer calls Jim Carrey an “over-actor.” That takes him completely by surprise and he just has to laugh before slyly replying, “Oh no. They’re onto me.” That self-aware line just endeared him as an actor, and I can easily see why Roger Ebert was won over by him.

      Mr. Magoo includes many outtakes that are incredibly unfunny. Some of them are just baffling, like all of the embarrassing shots of Leslie Nielsen or his stunt double bumbling around in a raft. Most of them are just shots of people looking awkward or falling down. I guess that summarizes the movie perfectly, though, so bravo for putting together those lazy outtakes.

      The Hard Truth

      It’s perfectly possible to stretch a single joke out for the length of a whole movie. But I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It takes a lot of talent to do that. Liar Liar is a special film that showcases a world-class comedian working at the pinnacle of his talent. Mr. Magoo is an embarrassment that demonstrates the sad descent of one of the formerly funniest men in Hollywood. And that’s the truth of the matter.

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  2. I don’t love either one of these movies, but I can watch them both without complaint. That said, My Best Friend’s Wedding has some musical sequences that put it over the top for me. Liar, Liar has some laughs, but it’s just so run-of-the-mill. No one on that movie other than Carrey was even trying. And arguably, Carrey was trying too hard.

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    • The “I Say A Little Prayer” sing along scene in MBFW made that movie. That’s one of the few “chick flicks” that guys can enjoy as well.

      Liar Liar was fun (it got my vote). But I haven’t really felt the need or desire to watch it again since I saw it on video in late 1997.

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  3. I’m with Lebeau in that I don’t love either film, but I voted for “Liar Liar”, as I enjoyed that one more. From this point forward, it’s highly unlikely I’d vote for either film again though.

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