Things seem to be looking up for Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) and his wife Jane (Téa Leoni). While they don't have the snazzy voice-activated car that their neighbor has, they do have a big house, a huge widescreen TV, and a considerable debt load to go with their cushy upper-middle-class lifestyle. And now, to make things even better, Dick has been promoted to vice president of communications at Globodyne, the company where he works. Alas, the corporation giveth and the corporation taketh away, and no sooner have Dick and Jane begun to celebrate their good fortune than Globodyne goes through an Enron-style meltdown, wiping out their income, their pension, and even the property value of their house; if they were to sell it, they would actually owe the bank money. The landscapers even repossess their front lawn. "I didn't know they could do that," Jane says.
Unfortunately for Dick, while at least one of his bosses knew what was coming and cashed his chips accordingly, he himself had no clue, and he happened to be in the middle of an interview on live television when Globodyne's stock took a sudden dive. The public humiliation, and the possibility that he might be indicted along with his former employers, makes it that much more difficult for Dick to find work—prospective employers are more interested in meeting the infamous loser than in hiring him—so eventually he turns to minimum-wage jobs and hangs out with Hispanic day laborers, where, of course, he loses his I.D. and is mistaken for an illegal immigrant when the cops show up. Jane, for her part, takes part in clinical trials for cosmetics that leave her face looking rather puffy.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and finally, to restore the lifestyle that they believe they were unjustly cheated of, Dick and Jane embark on a series of armed robberies—sort of. On their first few escapades, Dick is armed only with their son's squirt gun, and he is either easily intimidated or too eager to help little old ladies to their cars. But eventually, he and Jane get the hang of it—stealing cars, robbing banks, and so on. While this middle part of the story is most prominent in the trailer, it is perhaps the least developed part of the film, and it makes the least impression. The fact that Dick and Jane are committing crimes barely registers, partly because several of the robberies are seen only briefly in montages, and partly because some of their victims seem to deserve what they get, at least from the Harpers' point of view and, thus, from ours as well.
I have not yet seen the original 1977 version of Fun with Dick and Jane, starring George Segal and Jane Fonda, but I gather it was a satire of consumerism and middle-class values. (Its script is credited to three men, including novelist Mordecai Richler and Alien series producer David Giler, and it was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who went on to introduce the world to a disgruntled Vietnam vet named Rambo in First Blood.) The new movie, however, seems less interested in mocking middle-class materialism than in pointing fingers at the corporate and perhaps even political leaders who have let the middle class down.
Rather than encourage the viewer to question his or her own desire to have it all, the movie offers a form of vicarious revenge. The final section of the film revolves around a plot by Dick, Jane, and one of Dick's former bosses (Richard Jenkins) to rob Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin), Globodyne's slimy former CEO, of the money that he made from his stocks so soon before his company went belly-up. (Between this and Elizabethtown, Baldwin seems to be cornering the market on eccentric executives who preside over corporate catastrophes.) Those who have seen the documentaries Fahrenheit 9/11 and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room will recognize a bit of George W. Bush and Jeff Skilling in McCallister, in the scenes where he applies the Darwinian principle of the survival of the fittest to the business world, or where he blithely invites reporters to watch him take a shot at a bird.
Written by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Nicholas Stoller, and directed by Dean Parisot (a TV veteran whose last film was the superior sci-fi spoof GalaxyQuest), the new film is too glib to be effective social commentary, and it isn't especially funny either. Some bits do work rather well, such as the rivalry between Dick and his frustrated colleague Oz Peterson (Carlos Jacott), which culminates in a race up a staircase after one of them has poured dozens of empty water cooler bottles down the steps; this scene gives an amusing new spin to the notion of "climbing the corporate ladder." Carrey seems to be having fun, but the film gives him little to work with; the humorous moments are less outrageous than Carrey fans might expect, and the serious moments lack the weight of his more dramatic films. One gets the sense that this film wasn't much of a challenge for him. But in a strange way, it's fitting that a movie about people out of work should, itself barely work.Discussion starters
- Before his first attempted robbery, Dick says to Jane, "We followed the rules, and we got screwed!" Do you think his outrage is justified? Does he have a right to expect something because he "followed the rules"? Are there any rules he should have followed but didn't?
- How do you respond to injustice in your own life? Do Dick and Jane "take the law into their own hands" at any point in the story? During the robberies? When they target Jack McCallister? Should McCallister be held to account for what he did? If so, how? And by whom?
- Does the film excuses the robberies committed by Dick and Jane, or gloss over them? Do you see any parallel between what they do to others and what McCallister did to them and their coworkers? (Warning: the next question contains a spoiler.) When restitution is made to McCallister's former employees, should Dick and Jane make restitution to the people that they themselves have robbed? Why or why not?
- Does this film challenge or confirm assumptions about class, social status, and/or the desirability of material prosperity? How? Point to specific scenes.
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Fun with Dick & Jane is rated PG-13 for brief language, some sexual humor (most of which concerns a married couple) and occasional humorous drug references (such as a woman who says, "I've been off the pipe for two years, thank you Jesus!"). The story also revolves around bank robberies and other forms of criminal behavior. The soundtrack uses gospel blues songs to signify the characters' distress, and in one scene, after stealing turf from various places to replenish the lawn that has been repossessed by the landscapers, Dick returns some of it to a graveyard, apologizing to God for offending him.
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Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 01/05/06
Is the Jim Carrey/Téa Leoni version of Fun with Dick & Jane as funny as the George Segal/Jane Fonda version released in 1977? Apparently not.
"Fun is full of missed opportunities and wrong turns," writes Christopher Lyon (Plugged In). He notes that Carrey's brand of humor feels "forced" into the movie, and that Dick and Jane's descent into illegal activity seems implausible. He concludes, "After setting us up to see the emptiness of Dick and Jane's materialistic lifestyle, director Dean Parisot and screenwriter Judd Apatow do nothing to suggest a need for an alternative."
"Surprisingly unfunny at times, the film is, at its best, mildly amusing," says Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk), "but its own sense of moral righteousness comes across as mean-spirited."
But Sherri McMurray (Christian Spotlight) calls it "the most hilarious slap-stick that I've seen in a while. … The funny scenes were belly laughers, and the sprinkling of drama was just right." She notes a different sort of problem: "Due to some sexual references and profanity, parents must use caution."
Mainstream critics aren't having much fun with the film.