The Junk Food of Writing

Friday, December 16, 2005

Fun? That's debatable.

Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni are on the lookout for subtlety

Following in contemporary Hollywood's tradition of failing to create original ideas, Fun with Dick and Jane is yet another remake to be released this year. The first Dick and Jane, which is filled with sharp jabs at the American lifestyle and class struggle, was released in 1977. One common criticism which is often stated regarding the polyester clad Dick and Jane from the Disco 70's is that the film is horribly dated. With the recent collapse of such conniving conglomerates as Arthur Anderson and Tyco, the original film's social commentary remains extremely relevant. Therefore, it does not seem strange to update this social satire. The ingenious plot is indubitably timely and rife with comedic possibilities; at least that is what director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) thought. The results are somewhat mixed, however.

Fortunately, Parisot and screenwriters Nicholas Stroller and Judd Apatow (writer/director of the sweet and amusing 40 Year-Old Virgin and the prematurely cancelled television series Freaks and Geeks) relish in the new-millennium modernity of the new Dick and Jane. The film opens "a long, long time the year 2000." We witness Dick and Jane's banal daily routine, which they seem content enough with. They live in an upper-middle class suburb of Los Angeles, where Anglo destitution means not having the newest Mercedes model. Landscapers are laying down the new, fresh green grass on Dick and Jane's front lawn; this minor construction serves as a literal establishment of the suburban America setting. It also implicitly forebodes the inevitable deterioration.

After Dick's scandalous company, Globodyne, suffers an Enron-esque meltdown of illegal business and questionable ethics, which was inflicted by avaricious executives, Dick (an expectedly silly Jim Carrey) is forced to leave his job without any further compensation. Finding a new job is not as easy as Dick initially suspected, however.

After a three-month-long failed attempt to find employment, him and his wife, Jane (played with an adequate amount of stress and sass by Tea Leoni), start to worry about the bills and their source of income -- or lack, thereof. To quickly solve their economical dilemma, the browbeaten Dick and Jane turn to a life of thievery -- but they are hardly as competent as Bonnie and Clyde. The threat of bankruptcy and poverty is so frightening to Dick and Jane that they have a bit of an identity crisis, since they are unaccustomed to such financial troubles. The film has a similar identity crisis -- it is unsure whether to be a sharp, biting indictment on corporate America or a goofy holiday feature.

Fun with Dick and Jane is, essential, a thinly veiled social critique. In an observant moment of devastating truth, Jane yells at the landscapers, who are evicting her front lawn, in front of the neighbors as if she was simply a fastidious and under-appreciative housewife. This exposes Jane's mindset: she would rather be seen as a persnickety snob than someone who cannot afford landscaping. Most of these revealing moments are, however, dull -- this film is hardly a sardonic condemnation of America. It is a frivolous farce which attempts to be buff, but only amounts to fluff.

Although it is refreshing to see a studio film which is socially conscious, the sharp satire is diluted with silly slapstick. In an attempt to make the critique palatable, the film is rendered innocuous. Yet, oddly, the film is so preoccupied with its agenda that it lacks singular characters: the characterizations of Dick and Jane are just as simple as their monosyllabic names. Many of the more smart jokes are disrupted and overshadowed by a moment of coincidental silliness. But don't be fooled -- Dick and Jane aren't all fun. They mean business -- big business, that is; or, at least, that is what the film would like you to believe.

Its approach to corporate satire is very much in line with 2004's In Good Company and I Heart Huckabees. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as fulfilling as the former or as clever as the latter. Fun with Dick and Jane also finds room to fit in matrimonial mockery, just as Mr. and Mrs. Smith did this summer. The final heist is as stylishly, yet a bit more unwittingly, tricky as Ocean's 11. Such cinematic allusions are appropriate because Fun with Dick and Jane feels like just that -- an amalgamation of borrowed concepts (so, basically, it becomes the exact thing it is satirizing -- a corporate whole which is composed of other elements). This isn't blatant kleptomania, however; plus, Dick and Jane does contain some unique and acute humor (which is mostly focused on Spanglish, Enron executives and George W. Bush).

Ultimately, the overtly scrutinizing Fun with Dick and Jane is the cinematic equivalent of the couple at a dinner party who punctuate their every joke with a wink and laugh -- even if the joke is not always funny or subtle. They are tolerable, occasionally intelligent, and amusing, but not nearly as witty as they think they are. C+, 5.5/10


  • Interesting re: corporate satire elements. Good review (although your love for In Good Company still baffles me).

    I saw the trailer for this today, and I felt they gave away too much. After reading this review, I guess I'll wait till it reaches The Movie Network.

    Why do you think this is releasing in December? Feels like such a summer movie.

    By Blogger Ali, at 3:16 AM  

  • In Good Company is so sweet (and strangely accurate, despite having an artificial facade) that I cannot help but giddy and, as I stated in the review, fulfilled. It vexes me also, but I enjoy watching it nonetheless.

    This DOES feel like a summer film -- I think it was originally planner for summer, but was delayed due to rewrites (or something to that degree - it does seem rather rewritten in parts). Actually, at my screening they said they might be adding more scenes to the film and I would have to come in for a subsequent press screening.

    By Blogger Nick M., at 11:39 AM  

  • Had to giggle uncontrollably upon reading the title of the reviewed movie. Of course it's early morning and I'm a little bit stoned, but that's not really thepoint. Carry on.

    By Blogger Matthew Thomas, at 7:25 AM  

  • ^ Never mind.

    Good review.

    By Blogger Matthew Thomas, at 7:44 AM  

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