‘Liar Liar’ at 25 – Review

Liar Liar (1997)
Director: Tom Shadyac
Screenwriter: Paul Guay, Stephen Mazur
Starring: Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Amanda Donohoe, Jennifer Tilly, Justin Cooper, Cary Elwes

Liar Liar (1997) was Jim Carrey’s first original comedy outing since his incredible 1994 when he burst onto the scene with three mainstream classics at once to display his zany, off-the-wall comedic stylings. From the sketch comedy of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to the comic book insanity of The Mask to the unlikely hit Dumb and Dumber, each film was a feather in Carrey’s bow illustrating how he could carry a film either on his own, alongside special effects or as one half of a double act.

Liar Liar was more of a by the numbers comedy than some of the actor’s previous work, a film based upon a simple premise in the same vein of a Jerry Lewis film: a lawyer who struggles to connect with his son misses his boy’s birthday and, as a result of the child’s birthday wish, must not tell a lie for a period of 24 hours – it just so happens to be the big day of his biggest case.

The film’s poster was built around Carrey as Fletcher Reede, front and centre alongside the film’s title, arms open wide welcoming people to the show. It proved to be a consistently funny movie, Carrey’s character navigating the obstacles and struggles of this 24 hour period in all the ways you might expect a Carrey character to do so.

It’s a film that taps into the everyman appeal of Carrey that he mined so effectively in The Mask as Stanley Ipkiss, that loveable down-on-his-luck guy who catches a break and releases another side to his persona when he dons the eponymous face mask. As the lawyer who deceives and bends the truth to his will, Carrey taps into the complexities of the lawyer in mainstream society yet comments that every lawyer may have a family, Fletcher learning that he really loves his son and desperately does not want to lose him from his life. Liar Liar has a neat two-day narrative trajectory: the day before he has to stop lying and the day in which he cannot lie. The economical structure allows for the convenient growth of characters but also allows two sides to Carrey’s character to appear from one day to the next.

The supporting cast is a trove of familiar 90s comedy faces: Jason Bernard as Judge Stevens (who appeared in While You Were Sleeping), Jennifer Tilly as his client who will stop at nothing to gain financial dispensation for the dissolvement of her marriage, Amanda Donohue whose every appearance forces Carrey to throw himself against the nearest wall as a running joke, Maura Tierney as his ex-wife who wishes he could be better, and Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride; Robin Hood: Men in Tights) as Tierney’s new partner who while a dab comedic hand himself plays the role very straight.

The film became somewhat of a return to form for Carrey following the disappointment of Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy (1996) where he was paid $20m for a film that did not meet expectations, the dark slant of the text not hitting with audiences. Liar Liar did very good business for the man who was slowly becoming the most bankable star in Hollywood and proved a box office hit making $181m in the United States. Much of this was down to Carrey who elevated his every part of the relatively mundane material. His performance ensured that he was again cemented alongside Tom Hanks and Will Smith as one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood at the time, that marquee name that could open a film alone no matter the subject.

Fletcher Reede is one of Jim Carrey’s great comedy performances, full of controlled comedic chaos from beating himself up in a bathroom to fighting a blue pen he wishes to be red. The next performance he made was as Truman Burbank in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, Carrey’s attempt for legitimacy playing a man unknowingly moulded and manipulated by a larger corporation. That film would mark a sea change for Carrey’s career in his attempts for Oscar glory in roles such as Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Sadly, returning to out and out comedies such as Bruce Almighty (2003) and Yes Man (2008) has become all too infrequent over the course of his subsequent career, which is sad to think upon Liar Liar’s 25th anniversary when Carrey was both the most bankable and funniest man in all of Hollywood.


Written by Jamie Garwood

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