[21 December 2005]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“Ours is an age of unmeasured prosperity,” says George W. Bush early in Fun with Dick and Jane. The president appears on tv a few times, framed at a sarcastic distance so the movie can take easy shots at his soundbite pronouncements, without much critique of policy or philosophy. (But that’s not a Jim Carrey comedy’s job; for that sort of breakdown, see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.)
In 2000, Dick (producer as well as star Carrey) is a wealthy executive working for Globodyne Corporation. A poster boy for Bush’s pie-in-the-sky economics, he’s something of a one-dimensional joke, powered by Carrey’s elasticky face and gyrational limbs take up a lot of screen space. He’s good at selling stuff, charms the civilians, and impresses his bosses, CEO Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin) and CFO Frank Bascom (Richard Jenkins). They send him to perform some spin on a cable tv finance show called “Moneylife,” where he proves suddenly incapable of muttering a coherent sentence, as an animated stock-chart for Globodyne literally falls off the screen. On his return to the office, shredders are whirring and workers are packing (one going so far as to walk out with Dick’s ficus). In a word, his world falls apart.
At home, Dick learns that his wife Jane (Téa Leoni) has just quit her job as a travel agent. They’ve got a mortgage, new lawn, expensive electronics, and a hot tub in mid-installation, plus a little boy who speaks English with a Mexican accent because he spends so much time with the maid named (what else?) Blanca (Gloria Garayua). Though Dick tries to keep a brave face, he can’t get another exec spot since his tv meltdown (an associate [Jeff Garlin] informs him that he and his buddies now call making a fatal error “pulling a Dick”). And Jane does the books, and soon announces, “We’re in a bit of a pickle, Dick” (and no matter what else goes wrong with this movie—which is plenty, Leoni’s timing is, as ever, crackerjack). While McCallister has flown the coop with $400 million (stowed in the usual Cayman Islands bank accounts), everyone else affiliated with the company is broke, depressed, and/or suicidal (they all hung onto Globodyne stock while McCallister sold his). This pathetic number includes Frank, whom Dick discovers at a bar, drinking himself into oblivion.
It’s not that Dick and Jane don’t try to find other work, including some of the most “reprehensible,” low-wages sorts, like clerking at “Kost-mart” (where Dick is too inept to manage the customer service smile) or teaching martial arts aerobics (Jane is clueless, but does her best to lead her erstwhile friends in a class). Jane is so undone when the landscapers come to reclaim the lawn (that is, the neighbors can now see the trouble they’re in) that Dick tries waiting on line for day labor in a flannel shirt.
In this last instance, when he offends someone and gets his ass kicked, his mouth swells up so he (supposedly) sounds Mexican (you know, like his scary-smart child, and yes, there is a payoff here), so he ends up arrested (by Clint Howard, of all cameos) and dumped over the border with the rest of his new friends. (Jane waits in the car to pick them up as 20 guys rush at her: “Vamanos!”) This joke, like others—Dick and Jane pile food on plates at the salad bar, they soap up and jump into a neighbor’s sprinkler—is sloppy and simple, but it’s a little extra grim too. How fun to see Dick abused like a Mexican.
To rub in the point, McCallister goes duck-shooting for tv cameras, asserting his sorrow on behalf of his Globodyne “family,” then encouraging reporters to “Watch this shot” (recalling Bush’s golf demonstration, made famous in Fahrenheit 9/11). Again, a decent gag, but rudimentary, especially as it’s accompanied by a couple of background views of Gore-Lieberman campaign posters. Yes, the Bush administration has a dicey record on corporate greed, border policing, and consumer excesses. And so what?
And so, Dick and Jane turn to literal thievery, only a short step from the mendacious strategies embodied by McCallister (and, as the film implies, Bush). They rob convenience stores, sushi stores, jewelry stores, wearing silly costumes (Bill and Hillary masks, Dick as Cher to Jane’s bell-bottomed Sonny), and they hook up with Frank, who conjures a plan for revenge. While Dick doesn’t exactly pass as a “hardened criminal,” despite his protestations to that effect, he’s determined to make his point. Just so, the movie is at once clunky, witty, and earnest, as this pod combination constitutes a kind of comedic assertiveness.
Fun with Dick and Jane makes a basic point, summed up Dick’s assessment of their situation: “We followed the rules, and we got screwed. We were good people, and we got screwed.” As a result, they are rendered primal, desperate to “protect our land” (by which Dick means their mortgaged house, but also that repossessed lawn). Such reductiveness alludes to the primary school book recalled by the film’s title, underlined as well in the couple’s perfect suburban front and little white dog named Spot. But that’s about it. For a comedy with so much politico-cultural baggage on its mind (and it’s not above using Enron as a final punch line), Dick and Jane remains curiously inert.