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Me, Myself & Irene***

Although mental health advocates have complained about this movie's treatment of schizophrenia, they cannot complain that the mentally ill are being singled out for abuse. Me, Myself & Irene is everything its detractors accuse it of being--tasteless, irreverent, and incorrigibly politically incorrect. However, it is also a better than entertaining farce, and in my own opinion, a more imaginative if wilder motion picture than the Farrelly's mega-hit There's Something about Mary

At the beginning of the film, Charlie Baileygates (Jim Carrey), a stalwart veteran of the Rhode Island Highway Patrol, marries Layla (Traylor Howard), who leaves him on threshold and runs off with their wedding day chauffeur, a Black dwarf with the I.Q. of a genius. Subsequently she gives birth to twin boys who are obviously the offspring of the chauffeur but whom the long-suffering Charlie raises as his own. 

When Charlie eventually breaks under the pressure of these blows of fate, he spontaneously becomes his alter ego Hank, who is just as belligerent and sexually rapacious as Charlie is submissive and sexually repressed. To remedy this problem, doctors prescribe medication designed to keep the persona of Hank from overtaking that of Charlie, but when Charlie fails to take the medicine, none of  the predictable consequences of this split-personality scenario fail to appear. 

Basically, Me, Myself & Irene is another retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, filtered through Jerry Lewis's 1963 comedy, The Nutty Professor. Lewis repeats the greatest of the transformation scenes, that from Rouben Mamoulian's 1932 version of the story--perhaps the best of the 1930's horror films--which Universal copied for its various werewolf pictures and which Victor Fleming reprised in his 1941 remake, but by 1963 the whole thing had begun to wear a bit thin, and Lewis plays it mainly for laughs. 

Lewis's main contribution to the cycle was to invert the original paradigm by making his Jekyll, Professor Julius Kelp, into a toad-like nerd and his Hyde, the symbolically named Buddy Love, into a lecherous glamour boy. The Farrelly's, however, wisely dispense with the Mad Scientist paraphernalia altogether--a temptation that The Hollow Man could not resist, to its detriment--and opt for a transformation enacted without the help of special effects. 

In an early adaptation of the Stevenson tale made in 1920 and directed by John Stuart Robertson, John Barrymore had brilliantly conveyed the change of Jekyll into Hyde without makeup or tricks, merely by contorting his body and altering his facial expression. While I have no idea whether the Farrelly's or Jim Carrey were familiar with the Barrymore movie, Carrey executes the same kind of stunt when Charlie turns into Hank, and he carries it off very successfully, even if he's not likely to remind anyone of the Great Profile. 

Some years back, when I saw Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, I almost would have been willing to take a solemn oath never to watch a movie starring Jim Carrey again in my life--I never thought I would see a screen comedian capable of making Jerry Lewis look like Noel Coward. But Carrey gave an impressive performance as Truman Burbank in The Truman Show, and I thought he was quite effective in this movie. I don't know if he's learned to bring his talent under control or if these performances are the result of working with talented directors, but my hat is off to him.

Nevertheless, the transformation of Charlie into Hank sends a far different message than the transformation of Jekyll into Hyde. In a certain way, that transformation might be described as vertical, as the eruption of infernal forces from below into the daylight world above. But Me, Myself & Irene's transformation is horizontal, from one kind of American social type to its opposite. If Hyde is the diabolical caricature of the otherwise saintly Dr. Jekyll, Hank is Charlie's alter ego, not his demonic shadow. Where the sweet-tempered Charlie is a living illustration of the cynical common place that says "Good guys always finish last," the foul-mouthed, bullying Hank is a far from caricatured embodiment of the all-American winner who comes in first by aggressively pushing his competitors out of the way. 

Officially, Charlie represents what a good boy is supposed to be just as Hank represents all the character traits that are still considered unacceptable or even taboo in polite society--or what passes for polite society these days. Yet behind the film's amusing fable is the old time Yankee common sense that says, "'Taint so," that knows the Charlie's of the world are doomed to have their butts kicked and the Hank's who do the kicking are the ones destined to rule the roost.

Hank is what Charlie would be if he could, what he would need to be in order to stop being a schlemiel. Here it is interesting to compare Me, Myself & Irene with an older film, Billy Wilder's brilliant satire The Apartment, which depicts the transformation of the schlemiel played by Jack Lemmon into a mensch who at the end of the film breaks his Faustian bargain with the Mephistophelean Sheldrake and becomes his own man. But The Apartment reflects the optimism of the early 1960's. In the United States in which the action of Me, Myself and Irene takes place, where corporate downsizing is the order of the day and no one would dare to flip off the boss, people only survive by alternately changing roles, by compulsively shifting from Charlie to Hank as the occasion demands. 

In fact, it is the compulsive violence with which Charlie metamorphoses into Hank that constitutes Me, Myself and Irene's peculiar contribution to the Jekyll-Hyde canon. Yet what  this compulsiveness--a notorious anal character trait--tacitly points to is the anal obsessiveness whose intimate association with the rise of modern capitalism has been noted by many observers--perhaps most strikingly by Norman O. Brown in Life Against Death.  

However, Me, Myself & Irene is not just anal obsessive but obsessively anal, most blatantly when a shot of Hank starting to drop his pants and defecate on a neighbor's lawn immediately cuts to one of a coil of chocolate ice cream coming out of a dispenser. Later, in a less graphic but more outré episode, the movie has Charlie discover after a wild night at a motel  that Hank has rectally penetrated himself with a dildo, and one of the penultimate shots shows Irene bending over a patrol car as if she were about to be mounted from behind. 

But these scatological high jinks notwithstanding, Me, Myself & Irene is an inexorably "white" comedy. Its potty humor pales in comparison with the "black" conceits of movies like Your Friends and Neighbors, in which Jason Patric regales his gym buddies with an account of sodomizing a male classmate while in high school, or Happiness, in which a dog laps up a pubescent boy's first ejaculate. True to its underlying anal obsessive sources, Me, Myself & Irene's descent into the bowels of American culture never gets far beyond narcissistically toying with its own feces, like the teenage cut up who tries to scandalize the neighborhood with the look-alike replica of a lump of excrement he made in metal shop.  

After coming close to portraying the entire country as a pigsty, Me, Myself and Irene predictably retracts its heresies in the last reel, reuniting Charlie and Irene (Renée  Zellweger) in a happy ending, as if it were saying, "Just kidding, folks!" Last summer an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times (6/22/00) entitled "Movies Test the Limits of Bad Taste," discussing the recent rash of raunchy pix like Me, Myself & Irene and Scary Movie. In its conclusion, the article quoted a professor of film at the University of Oklahoma named Andy Horton, who drew a parallel between these productions and the comedies of Aristophanes, observing that "Aristophanes wrote some of the grossest jokes and some of the greatest poetry...." But Me, Myself and Irene no more resembles a comedy of Aristophanes than a frat party resembles a Dionysiac orgy.

Small  Time  Crooks

The Hollow Man

What Lies Beneath

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