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The Truman Show

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Truman Show

Starring: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney
Director: Peter Weir
Rated: PG
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: June 1998
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Noah Emmerich, Holland Taylor, Ed Harris, Brian Delate, Una Damon, Paul Giamatti, Philip Baker Hall, John Pleshette

Reviewer Roundup
1.  MrBrown review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
3.  Walter Frith read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
4.  Mark OHara read the review ---

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

From the moment he signed his name on the dotted line, _The_Truman_Show_ has been touted as Jim Carrey's big dramatic breakthrough (never mind that he won numerous critical kudos for his work in the Emmy-nominated TV movie _Doing_Time_on_Maple_Drive_). Carrey indeed does a fine job in Peter Weir's clever fantasy, but to focus all attention on his refreshing change-of-pace turn is to discount the superior accomplishment of those behind the scenes--and to give Carrey a bit _too_much_ credit.

Carrey's Truman Burbank has a nice house, white picket fence and all, in the idyllic oceanside community of Seahaven; a loyal wife, Meryl (Laura Linney); an even more loyal best friend, Marlon (Noah Emmerich); and a cushy desk job. If it sounds like a pretty picture from the TV screen, that's because it is. Unbeknownst to Truman, the entire life he has lived is mere programming for a 24-hour television network. Seahaven is one large soundstage, where all events are scripted and all the inhabitants are actors--that is, except for Truman, who was adopted as an infant by the Omnicam Corporation, and has had every step of his life traced and molded by _The_Truman_Show_'s creator, Christof (Ed Harris).

In addition to having an inventive plot hook, Andrew Niccol's screenplay is expertly structured. In its first minute, the basic outline of the complex premise is made perfectly clear through a faux television credit roll and soundbites from Meryl, Marlon (or, rather, the actors who play them), and Christof. For about the next hour, Niccol and Weir thrust the audience directly into Truman's world, allowing them to experience for themselves the surreal, synthetic way of "life" in Seahaven before going into a more detailed backstory that fills in the few holes. In the process, the viewer is given a much more vivid and entertaining picture of Truman's situation.

Truman is not as dumb as Christof or other crew members think, and he begins to catch on to the grand charade that is his life when no one will let him leave town. The resulting conflict, within himself and with everyone and everything around him, provides Carrey ample opportunity to stretch while staying within comfortable acting bounds. He gets to cry (and convincingly at that) onscreen and play a fairly earnest character as a whole, but he does make concessions to his core comedic audience. When Truman's suspicions grow, the more unhinged he gets, setting the stage for some funny rubberfaced antics (no butt-talking, though--thankfully).

However, his performance is not the Oscar-baiting tour-de-force that a number of sources would lead you to believe. Carrey's shortcoming is most clearly brought to light in one key subplot. Although he likes Meryl, the love of his life is Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), a fetching young woman whom he barely knew in college. Like the rest, Sylvia was an actress playing a part, but when she broke script and actually fell for him, she was hastily removed from the Seahaven set and the _Truman_ cast. Truman was told that she and her "father" moved to Fiji, and it's his longing for her that makes him want to leave town. This thread is supposed to be _Truman_'s emotional hook, but it doesn't quite work for a couple of reasons. The character of Sylvia, who goes on to be the leader of the "Free Truman" movement, is sketchily written, as are the reasons behind her deep feelings for Truman; and, as evidenced in _Liar_Liar_, Carrey just isn't that convincing when it comes to sentiment. Granted, _Truman_ is nowhere near as sappy as that film (not to mention the sap felt out of place there), but, while he is a likable presence, Carrey doesn't have much of a natural emotional rapport with the audience or, for that matter, his co-stars. As such, one may empathize with Truman's desire to break free, but not necessarily feel for the romantic plight that motivates that desire.

Hence, the bravura work on display in _The_Truman_Show_ is that of Niccol and Weir, who have crafted a subtly layered, perceptive, and pointedly truthful commentary on the media and its and our own voyeuristic tendencies. While the ostensible villains of _The_Truman_Show_ are Christof and his crew, coming off every bit as guilty is the viewing audience, which is shown eating up every second of Truman's pre-packaged "life" as their own lives idly waste away. As outlandish as the entire premise may seem, isn't _The_Truman_Show_ (in which one's life is completely exploited as an entertainment "escape" for others) but just one logical, merging step away from the current likes of _Jerry_Springer_'s ongoing parade of dysfunction and those real-life "caught on tape" video shows?

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