PopMatters Film and TV Editor
‘m not through with you, buster!” Glaring at the mirror, Rhode Island state trooper Charlie Baileygates (Jim Carrey) is beside himself. Literally. Charlie’s recently been diagnosed as a “split personality,” which basically means that Jim Carrey has license to act as stupidly, obscenely, and self-loathingly as he likes. It’s like watching 90 minutes of the scene in Liar Liar where Carrey is “kicking his own ass.” The “real” character, Charlie, is essentially sweet and well- meaning (hence, “buster!”), but his other self is the unrepentantly heinous Hank, a result of Charlie’s years of “repressed anger” (his favorite epithet being “motherfucker”). Perhaps needless to say, this premise makes Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s Me, Myself & Irene the perfect Carrey vehicle, in that he gets to abuse and amuse himself at the same time.
Charlie is mad at this point in the film, despite and because of the fact that he’s the designated “nice” part of this self-sandwich. He’s learned that Hank spent a rapaciously kinky night with Charlie’s beloved, Irene (Renee Zellweger). Worse, Hank committed this misdeed by posing as Charlie. Here you see the movie’s ongoing emergency: no one can really tell Charlie and Hank apart, except when Hank engages in one of his more egregiously violent fits verbal or physical. (Sexual excessiveness doesn’t seem to provide a clue, as Irene was a willing participant in whatever horrors might have been enacted with Hank’s two- foot snaky dildo.) Charlie is so alarmed that he can only sputter and spit in his reflected face on his way out the door.
Even if this expectorate connotes a more baleful bodily fluid, this confrontation is Charlie and Hank’s mildest. But if other scenes are wilder and funnier I’m thinking particularly of the one where Hank and Charlie battle for control of a red Mustang convertible, punching and throwing each other from the car as it rolls on down the road this one names the stakes, possession of Irene. She motivates both personalities to spasms of ire and desire. Assigned to escort her from Rhode Island to Massena NY (for reasons that don’t make much sense but who cares), Charlie soon finds himself protecting her from her former mobster/boyfriend/employer, the significantly named Dicky (Daniel Greene). But whether they’re battling the bad cops on Dicky’s payroll (played with purposeful ickiness by Chris Cooper and Richard Jenkins), or competing for Irene’s affection (or at least her sexual compliance), Charlie and Hank are really contending over who’s the best man.
The parameters for bestness are vintage Farrelly brothers. In their oeuvre, the most excellent men must be both silly and unwussy, passionate and deranged. All their movies as well as Jim Carrey’s, for that matter are about the many paradoxes of masculinity. From Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin to Something About Mary, from Ace Ventura to The Mask to The Cable Guy to Man on the Moon, energetic protagonists engage in smackdown after smackdown with the horrific specter of ideal manhood, its crazy balancing act of aggression, audacity, and self-awareness. In this latest collaboration, the Farrellys and Carrey push their usual identity crisis buttons sexuality, class, and race and, no surprise, end up celebrating what seems to be their very object of ridicule: the oblivious white guy.
In Me, Myself & Irene (co-written by longtime Farrelly collaborator Mike Cerrone), this object is more loonytunes and vulgar than ever. The “psychological background” used to explain Charlie’s condition comprises one offensive jape after another. He begins the film in the 1970s, as a wimp whose beautiful and brilliant bride Layla (Traylor Howard) cheats on him with their wedding day limo driver and her fellow Mensa member, a black dwarf named Shonte (Tony Cox). When Layla abandons Charlie and her black triplet sons, he dutifully raises them as his own, so easygoing that he adapts their apparently “genetic” speech patterns and appreciation for Richard Pryor and Chris Rock. The former’s foul language alarms Charlie, but years later, when he sees the Rock’s “tossed salad man” routine on HBO, Charlie squeezed onto the couch between his now linebacker-sized 18-year-olds guffaws and proclaims him a “funny motherfucker!”
Charlie’s close and mutually supportive relationship with his sons signals that he is indeed a good man, if not yet the best. But the fact that the boys Shonte Jr. (Jerod Mixon), Jamaal (Anthony Anderson) and Lee Harvey (Mongo Brownlee) are also larger and leagues smarter than their dad, not to mention blacker, leads to some nasty local gossip concerning his virility. Charlie’s fellow highway patrolmen snigger and townsfolk ignore his requests that they park their cars legally or cease jump-roping in the street (says the cute little girl, “My dad says you’re a joke and I don’t have to listen to you! Fuck off!”).
After years of suffering such indignities, Charlie finally snaps one day, and suddenly he’s alternating between his customary meek persona and the flamboyantly contemptible Hank, whose emergence is signaled by conspicuous displays of meanness: he glowers like Yosemite Sam, the camera zooms in, and heavy guitar rock kicks in. But the Charlie-Hank duality is soon fractured into a more complex kind of mathematics. Their splits multiply exponentially, such that within each persona, Carrey gets to act out myriad psychic ruptures. Charlie’s self-difference is mostly verbal, the joke being that he’s not so fly for a white guy. Decked out neatly in his trooper’s uniform (britches, helmet, and helmet), he almost looks embarrassed when using street profanity and black slang with his lovable kids. With a goofy smirk, he warns the boys to do their homework, or else: “I’d hate to have to bust a cap.” Or again, he reminds them of the house rules: “No bitches after 11.”
This sort of simple fish-out-of-water comedy is almost redundant for Carrey, whose standard shtick is to appear simultaneously in and out of synch with his own body. But where Charlie’s self-contrast plays out racially, Hank’s is more obviously a matter of gender/sex confusions, translated as some brutal physical humor. As Hank, Carrey cuts loose in the ways his fans demand. Piqued by some minor infraction that Charlie might be forced to ignore, Hank’s brow clouds over and eyes narrow, and suddenly he’s all empty swagger and churlishness, just itching for fisticuffs. But the, uh, punchline is that even when he sets his chin and starts swinging all elbows and knuckles Hank’s really a sissy. Whether picking a fight with a small boy who stares too long at Hank while sipping his milkshake, or stomping off to do battle with a group of smokers who toss their butts on the ground, Hank’s a loser. The kid starts bawling and the smokers beat the shit out of him, to the point that Irene must drag him to safety.
Such rescues run against Irene’s better judgment, for she does sincerely dislike Hank (at least at first), but she understands he’s useful to have around when gunmen come calling. Then there’s the fact that he also slavers irrepressibly after Irene (eyeing her beguilingly, he asks, “Do you swallow. Still, there’s something about Hank. He’s probably sincere when he tells Irene that he appreciates her natural beauty (“Your squinty eyes and your face all pursed up like you just sucked a lemon”). But he definitely has his own identity “issues,” exposed when she reports that during their wild night together, it was he, and not she, who stuck that big floppy dildo up his ass.
The anxiety this raises concerning Hank’s sexual orientation is obvious, and it has everything to do with all the rest of the film’s messing with his manly self-image. Perhaps the strangest incarnation of this anxiety is Whitey (Michael Bowman), an Albino waiter whom Hank and Irene invite along for the ride (after Hank insults him, exhaustively). Whitey horrifies Charlie by telling him he ax-murdered his family and is just released from juvey. The image of such brutality, enacted by this diminutive and very white white boy is enough to make Charlie fretful, and again underlines the film’s concern with what makes the best man. Whitey’s self-description makes him the extreme embodiment of Hank and Charlie’s worst qualities all mushed together.
Rife with reconfigurations of masculinity, Me, Myself & Irene can’t really straighten them all out. The film isn’t so much racist or sexist or homophobic as it is generally opprobrious, and in the end, the good man isn’t so much intact and triumphant as he’s crazily redefined by his wackiest encounter, the one with himself. That the distinctions between good and bad, aggressive and meek, masculine and not, are blurred in the process, makes the film look almost insightful or intelligent. But that might be my imagination.