Birthday Review – “Liar Liar”

This is something that I have been meaning to do since I turned 18.  Every year from now on, I am going to review a movie that came out in my birth year, 1997, one of the worst years in the history of cinema.  This was the year where Titanic beat L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting for Best Picture, superhero movies were at an all-time awful, and both Jimmy Stewart and Chris Farley passed away.  But enough of that depressing stuff! Today (my 19th birthday), we are looking at a more comedic movie from that deplorable year.  Quite an important one in fact.

Liar Liar is directed by Tom Shadyac and written by Paul Guay and Steve Mazur.  Stars-Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Cary Elwes, Justin Cooper, and Jennifer Tilly.  Premise-The son (Cooper) of a successful but dishonest lawyer (Carrey) makes a birthday wish that his father can’t tell a single lie for one day.

Back in the 90s, TV comedian Jim Carrey was beginning to find work in the film industry in movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber in 1994, was followed by Batman Forever and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls in 1995.  However, there was a certain little dark comedy that came out in 1996 that almost destroyed his career, The Cable Guy. Sure it has a cult following now, but critics hated it and mainstream audiences didn’t know when to laugh when it was first released.  If it were not for Liar Liar’s release several months later, Mr. Carrey may have not found work (including The Truman Show and Man on the Moon) for a long time.  Many recognize Carrey’s incredible work in Liar Liar, but I have spent much more time analyzing it, and there are many more things that deserve praise.

It would be idiotic to say that Carrey isn’t the best thing about the movie.  If you used literally any other actor at the time, they wouldn’t have been able to match Carrey’s charm, likability, energy, heart, and acting.  To those who say that his type of acting isn’t “real acting,” explain to me how your William Shakespeare drama can make this movie any funnier?  In addition, how could the writing get any better?

Most critics cite the screenplay as the weakest aspect of the movie, but that is simply not the case.  Liar Liar is one of my favorite comedies, not only because it’s hilarious, but because there was a lot of passion put into it.  Let’s break down the story: it takes a cliché (lawyers are lying, selfish, scumbags), adds a clever idea, gives the setting a more lighthearted/heartfelt tone, add a top-notch cast of comedic actors, and you’ve got a winner!  Fletcher Reede (Carrey) is a big shot lawyer who loves his job and his family.  However, he chooses the former over the latter a bit too often, as a result, his wife has divorced him, and his son feels unloved.  Remember, this is a family comedy that came out in the 90s, it’s gonna be pretty cheesy and a bit predictable.  But it has all the heart and fun that makes it a joy to watch.  This movie is incredibly funny, but that wouldn’t have been the case if the material was garbage.  In his review of Rush Hour 2, Roger Ebert wrote, “One rule all comedians should know, and some have to learn the hard way, is that they aren’t funny–it’s the material that gets the laughs.”  If this movie didn’t have witty dialogue and an idea that never runs out of clever scenarios, it would belong to the pile of unfunny Carrey comedies.

Unfortunately this movie does have a few drawbacks, but none of them are deal-breakers.  For one, the worst thing about this movie is the art decoration, it is incredibly cheap.  The budget was $45 million, I guess they spent $40 of that on the cast (which is perfect), but that leaves very little to the production.  With the exception of the climax (which defiantly cost a pretty penny), most of the movie takes place in limited sets, some of which look fake as heck (there is a bathroom scene that comes to mind).  If you haven’t seen the movie (which is why I’m not spoiling anything), then it probably won’t distract you, but this is a review from someone who has seen this movie multiple times.  Also, the humor does get a bit crass at points (there is a lot of suggestive dialog).  It is PG-13, so be aware if you are watching it with kids.  Another thing some might find ridiculous is the score.  John Debney is a one-of-a-kind composer when he makes something like The Passion of the Christ, The Jungle Book (2016), or Elf, but he has remained in business by composing whimsical, over-the-top comedy scores.  What makes this score better than others is the perfect combo of goofy scenes and Debney’s music.  Aside from the occasional plothole, the faults of this movie are relatively harmless.

The year 1997 may have been predominantly filled with crap, but it had a few gems.  If you spend 90 minutes of your day on it, the amount of laughs will make your week.  By the end of the movie, you will feel genuinely happy, as that is the power of a comedy that delivers heart as much as it does humor.  Liar Liar gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks, Erick.

    As for “Most critics cite the screenplay as the weakest aspect of the movie,” the screenplay received an Honorable Mention (along with Fargo, Million Dollar Baby, The Full Monty and Catch Me If You Can) in Scr(i)pt magazine’s list of the Best Scripts of the Past 10 Years.

    Also, William C. Martell published Secrets of Story: Liar, Liar, a step-by-step guide to solving screenwriting problems using Liar, Liar as a model.

    And the Shooting Script was published by Harvest Moon.

    Liked by 1 person

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