Welcome to Rearview Mirror, a monthly column in which I re-view and then re-review a movie I have already seen under the new (and improved?) critical lens of 2023. I’m so happy you’re here.
As I navigated to the Bruce Almighty page on Peacock, where it’s currently streaming (with commercials maybe? I’m not sure what “tier” my account is on, as it’s a profile within the account of my ex-boyfriend, who only has Peacock because he works at NBC, but I digress…), I was shocked to see that it has low Rotten Tomato scores, both on the critical and audience scales. (The fact that Peacock has embedded Rotten Tomato scores into its interface, even to the detriment of original content, is a topic for another time, but if anyone knows what’s up with that, please DM me, I’m so curious.) It’s got a 48 percent on the Tomatometer, 57 percent audience score, and the “critic consensus” (who writes those?) is: “Carrey is hilarious in the slapstick scenes, but Bruce Almighty gets bogged down in treacle.”
As I said, shocked. The movie came out in 2003, by which time I had developed personal comedic taste (fart jokes bad, sarcasm good), though admittedly my critical skills were still forming. And I was pretty sure Bruce Almighty was, like, one of the funniest films ever made. Steve Carell’s blabbermouth scene reduced me to tears. Morgan Freeman as God made perfect sense. The bit where Bruce parts his soup like the Red Sea? Clever, sophisticated humor. To my mind, it had the perfect blend of slapstick, heart, pathos, and Bible references. It was a crowd-pleaser, and I was extremely pleased. I watched it on TV all the time. I might have at one point owned the DVD. Was I just young?
If you haven’t seen it, Bruce Almighty is a “what if?” comedy about a local news reporter (Jim Carrey) who takes his kind girlfriend (named Grace, of course) (Jennifer Aniston) mostly for granted as he fixates on the anchor job he feels entitled to and all the other woes of being a white man in America. He feels his life is “mediocre” and that he’s being picked on by the universe. To teach him a lesson, God Himself (Freeman) gives him the powers of the Almighty, and of course, the wish fulfillment backfires.
Bruce is too selfish to save the world, and finds that getting what he thought he wanted doesn’t make him any happier. This is a movie built from the same blueprint as The Family Man and Click and all those other early-’00s quasi-supernatural stories about how you should love your family because actually being a white man in America is easy if you have the right attitude. (Neither of those movies have particularly glowing reviews either. I’m starting to wonder…if the powers that be…don’t like being told to just chill and appreciate what you have and get that nice girlfriend of yours pregnant already?)
Only at the end of the Great Jim Carrey Run Of The Y2K Years could an entire feature be built around one man’s mug, with one scene devoted just to his Clint Eastwood impression.
Revisited now, the movie has aged remarkably well (other than the presence of a pager, there’s not much to date it), yet is clearly of its time in Hollywood. Only at the end of the Great Jim Carrey Run Of The Y2K Years could an entire feature be built around one man’s mug, with one scene devoted just to his Clint Eastwood impression. Grossing nearly half a billion dollars, the movie clearly tapped into Carrey’s existing fanbase and goodwill. And I vaguely remember it being popular among my friends, at least some of whom learned to spell “beautiful” correctly thanks to Bruce’s over-pronunciation of the word. “B-E-A-youuutiful” is stuck in my head all these years later.
It is, crazily enough, one of Carrey’s more grounded performances from the era. Even when playing God-ish, he’s a real person, unlike the cartoonishness of The Mask (which also, weirdly, has a lot in common with Bruce structure-wise), Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber, or The Cable Guy. It’s more akin to Liar Liar, another flick I think will stand the test of time better than the others. Maybe because it attempts to tackle much heavier themes than those outings, but without the relative seriousness of The Truman Show or Man on the Moon (this was one year before Carrey cemented his serious-acting abilities with Eternal Sunshine), critics didn’t know what to make of it as a Carrey vehicle that didn’t smell like a Carrey vehicle.
There’s something undeniably appealing about Jim Carrey covered in Post-Its with people’s prayers on them talking to his dog, who is also covered in Post-Its with people’s prayers on them.
All of which is to say, I still think it’s pretty good. Am I stupid? Too easily entertained by Aniston doing her best Meg Ryan orgasm homage in the bathroom? The Steve Carell blabbermouth scene got me again! Sure, it’s not, like, genius and incisive satire to unpack the logistical issues of letting everyone win the lottery. Or a monkey coming out of a guy’s butt. But there’s something undeniably appealing about Jim Carrey covered in Post-Its with people’s prayers on them talking to his dog, who is also covered in Post-Its with people’s prayers on them. And I appreciate the relatively small scale on which the story plays out. We don’t meet any other Biblical characters (the sequel/spin-off, Evan Almighty, re-tells Noah’s Ark. It’s not quite as tame, but no Satan or anything). Bruce doesn’t have to avert the Four Horsemen. There are basically no twists.
And while critics might rightfully call it “treacly,” for a movie about God, it’s un-preachy. Souls are not damned or redeemed through the power of love, prayer, or anything else. The moral is: be a good person. Maybe donate some blood. A modest message for what is ultimately a modest movie, demanding little of its audience besides attention and good humor. Plus, Lisa Ann Walter! Put her in more stuff! If I had God’s power, I tell ya, I would use it to put her in more stuff. FL