“I Was Horny”
I’m not exactly sure where this latest fad came from, but with the steady descent from There’s Something About Mary through American Pie to Me, Myself & Irene, it’s clearly gonna be around for a while.
I’m talking, of course, about what I’ll call the"misanthropic comedy” genre: off-color slapstick not targeting any particular race, ethnicity, persuasion, or gender, so much as spraying its derision indiscriminately at the whole lot of us. Me, Myself & Irene managing to belittle women, gays, blacks, single mothers, albinos, the handicapped, midgets, and the mentally ill, while making light of dismemberment and serial murder, and heaping abuse and indignity on innocent children would seem to have taken the misanthropic comedy to its farthest possible extreme. Then again, that’s what I’d naively thought There’s Something About Mary had already done, so maybe there’s no depth below which offensive comedy can’t sink. I imagine next they’ll be doing sitcoms about Nazi POW camps.
If you like intentionally offensive comedy, then parts of Me, Myself & Irene will undoubtedly make you laugh. Even if you don’t like offensive comedy, you might be tickled by a joke or two like the proper-looking lady whose Jim Carrey imitation I overheard as we were all filing out of the theater, gleefully hooting “Pussyfart! Pussyfart!” to her appreciative friends. This charming term belongs to Hank, Jim Carrey in one of his more emphatic Tourettes-syndrome incarnations: like most of his product, Me, Myself & Irene is premised on Carrey pretending to have a mental problem with an incredibly straightforward dynamic. His dissipation has worsened over the years, from simple idiocy in Dumb & Dumber to obsessive-compulsive disorder in Liar Liar, to split personality this time around. Although the movie casually refers to his disease as “schizophrenia,” it probably goes without saying that split personality and schizophrenia actually have nothing to do with each other. I’m going to ignore that, though, since this movie has plenty of other things to complain about.
Carrey’s other character, Charlie, catches split personality when his newlywed wife (Traylor Howard) leaves him for a limo-driving, dwarven supergenius. Charlie big-heartedly raises the three illegitimate fraternal triplets his wife conceived with her new beau, but his suppressed despair over the failed marriage and the humiliations he suffers as a highway patrolman coalesce into alterego Hank, who emerges David Banner style whenever Charlie encounters confrontation or conflict.
Hank first bubbles up when Charlie, waiting in a supermarket line to buy a newspaper, is imposed upon by a mother who asks if she can get in front of him, only to then reveal that she has several kids and cartfuls of groceries in tow. In a spasm of repressed rage Hank takes over Charlie’s body over a saturated soundtrack of shrieking children that evokes Tracy Flick’s psychotic fury in Election and rebuffs the woman by commandeering the store’s intercom to call a price check on her VagiClean. This naturally results in profound public embarrassment for her, and a montage of vengeful acts ensues as a rampaging Hank exacts violent retribution on everyone who has ever done him wrong.
Hank’s Dirty-Harryish rage is so despicable he punishes a little girl for jumping rope in the street by holding her head underwater until she nearly drowns, for instance that it seems to establish shock value as the movie’s only guiding principle. Still, there are rules to Hank’s conduct, even if they aren’t immediately apparent. One is that men are more humiliated by attacks on their territory and property, but women are better punished through bodily violation or menace to their lives. So, while doing his job on the highway patrol, Hank chastises an illegal parker by driving his car through a glass storefront, then ticketing him for a broken headlight. He rebukes a nursing mother, on the other hand, by plucking her baby from her bosom and then suckling her himself.
The mother, incidentally, seems not to have done anything terribly unlawful or to have slighted Hank in any way. The scene is set up earlier, when a group of men catcalls the buxom woman out of her earshot and Charlie, ever civic-minded, lectures them on the importance of respecting motherhood’s burdens. This lecture, and the woman’s innocence, make it clear that Hank’s subsequent attack on her is more an act of lust than one of revenge. That is, Charlie having long subordinated his sexual desires in the interest of doing the right thing has amassed a burgeoning reserve of lechery that the sociopathic Hank eagerly indulges, even on women he doesn’t know and who have committed no offense. In the movie, this is a joke. But if you happen to read about, say, the recent gropings in Central Park right before you step into the theater, you might not laugh out loud. Media perpetuation of the view that sexual assault is “appropriate” or “fun” contributes to attacks like those in Central Park, at least according to protesters, Al Sharpton being maybe the most controversial and prominent. Me, Myself & Irene, arriving in theaters so quickly on the heels of this episode, seems a pretty good example, however unwitting, of what they’re talking about.
Hank’s conspicuous impulses are progressively more about lust and less about revenge as the movie goes on, particularly when, in his policeman duties, Charlie is charged with escorting waifish Irene (Renee Zellweger) from Rhode Island to Massena, New York to face minor hit-and-run charges. Irene, it turns out, is an unwitting pawn in a vast and incredibly vague criminal conspiracy, having witnessed something illegal while working as a golf course groundskeeper. It’s never made clear what this is all about; the important thing is that ruffians are trying to kill Irene, who at 27 years old going on 15 is far too young to die. Predictably, Hank targets Irene for unbridled lasciviousness during their journey to New York. He woos her with a bottle of wine and a superhuman dildo, forgives himself for tricking her into the sack by explaining that “I was horny,” and nicknames her in the aforementioned burst of obscenity that struck a chord with my fellow audience members “my little pussyfart.”
Charlie, meanwhile, nurtures a more courtly love for the imperiled Irene his affection is markedly asexual (except once when she catches him jacking off to her mugshot). In dealing with Charlie/Hank’s behavioral flip-flops, Irene cultivates a kind of split personality herself. She channels a potent brutality through her thin frame whenever Hank oversteps the bounds of good taste (the “pussyfart” comment leads her to kick him viciously in the balls), but greets Charlie’s neurotic neediness with the patience of Solomon. Charlie, using intensely hurtful language more characteristic of Hank, scolds her for being unable to keep her legs closed, then confesses his romantic attraction to her in the same breath; she takes him into her arms in a sweet, filial passion a moment later, having completely forgotten his damaging remark.
Though in her mid-20s, Irene’s babyface gives her an orphaned air that’s compounded by her frequent laments on solitude and insecurity. She has no pictures of her erstwhile friends, said pictures having gotten old and fallen apart, “kinda like the friendships,” she says, then warns Charlie against loving her because of her self-perceived worthlessness. Zellweger deftly negotiates her character’s irrational vacillations, and fleshing Irene out a bit while providing a coherent foil to Carrey’s histrionics.
For his part, Charlie deals with his psychological problems mostly by engaging in desperate combat with his own body and shouting epithets at the scurrilous Hank. These performances are the movie’s way of understanding split personality, a disorder in which, in broad Freudian terms, the “ego” or sense of grounded self fades away under the violent clash between id and superego. The term I recall in my college psych textbook for this, “depersonalization,” manages somehow, in its clinical dryness, to evoke something of the process’s horror; it amounts to a kind of conscious death.
Needless to say, Me, Myself & Irene, having already confused split personality and schizophrenia, is a little too light-headed to acknowledge any of this, instead arbitrarily defining Charlie as a point of reference for Jim Carrey’s divided character. Given recent musings on the impulse toward violent crime, though, maybe it doesn’t need to. Popular thinking on the subject Daniel Goldhagen’s immense bestseller Hitler’s Willing Executioners and John Conroy’s Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People being examples would have us see a falseness in the distinction between id and superego anyway. To Goldhagen and Conroy, evil isn’t deeply submerged, coaxed out of hiding in circumstances of extreme adversity. It is, instead, indistinct from everyday personality, an impulse available to the same part of us that goes to work in the morning, and makes love at night.
It’s easy enough to imagine a movie that sees Hank as the central personality, Charlie as the border, built flimsily on perceived social constraints and ready to evaporate like a puff of air on a moment’s notice. But that wouldn’t be funny at all.