Great Scott, that was actually good. The possibility hadn't occurred to me.
First, some groundwork. This isn't the 1957 children's picture book by Dr Seuss, nor is it the 1966 Chuck Jones animated adaptation
. No, it's the 2000 live-action one, directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey in the title role. Understandably I was expecting horrors. I think I'd been coupling it with Mike Myers's 2003 live-action Cat in the Hat, which was so hated by Audrey Geisel (Dr Seuss's widow) that she decided never to permit another live-action adaptation of her husband's books.
This film though I think she liked.
Firstly, it's got Jim Carrey. The guy's incredible. The other day I happened to see a few minutes of Liar Liar, a film that I'd always assumed would be dust upon the wind, and Carrey annihilated me. There's never been anyone else like him. The energy he can put into his performances could power solar systems. The man practically killed himself writing three words. What's more, he's not just a rubber face. When Audrey Geisel visited the set of Man on the Moon to see if she liked Carrey as the Grinch, he was so deep into the character of Andy Kaufman that he had to do an impression of himself doing an impression of the Grinch. That got him the role.
That said though, I couldn't call this his best work. Sometimes I couldn't see any acting underneath the Carrey-isms. However that's presumably the fault of the prosthetics he's encased in, while I was laughing throughout just at him being Jim Carrey. Furthermore the role's wonderful. The Grinch loves to be petty, spiteful, hate-filled, obnoxious and smelly. He'll eat broken glass, for instance. In other words, he's a joy to watch. The more gleefully repulsive he is, the more we love him. I should also mention that Carrey's work here was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, although he lost to George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
On top of that, you've got the production. This is an Oscar-winning film, albeit for Best Makeup. It was also nominated for Best Costume and Best Art Direction. Nowadays it doesn't look so special since we can do it a hundred times more so with CGI, but this film had more characters in heavy make-up than any since The Wizard of Oz (1939)
. They used 8000 make-up appliances, 8200 ornaments, 2000 candy canes, 152,000 lbs of fake snow, 443 outfits, eleven sound stages and the equivalent of two million miles of styrofoam. Carrey's costume took three hours to apply and it was such an ordeal to wear that he had a Navy SEAL teaching him torture-resistance techniques. One day Ron Howard directed in the Grinch suit with full make-up and it meant he had to come in at 3:30am. This is movie heroism, but more importantly it looks good. The feline make-up jobs on everyone are appropriately Seuss-like, it looks much more authentic than I'd expected and there are little fantasy touches like a miniature tuba player inside his normal-sized counterpart's tuba.
I even liked the child star. She's got the most adorable smile, her name's Taylor Momsen and she's still acting today. Oh, and there's an adult character (Christine Baranski) who's supposedly been carrying a torch for the Grinch since childhood, which is extreme in itself and the film gets away with it by making her seem: (a) retarded, and (b) like the horror-movie victim of too much plastic surgery. The scary thing though is that theoretically you can see how she could be seen as attractive.
All that's good. Now for the bad, i.e. the plot.
It's like a parody of Hollywood at its worst. In fact Carrey does occasionally turn the film into actual parody, e.g. his impression of Ron Howard or his pisstake of the "running away from a fireball" cliche, so you could go mad trying to figure out what's what. Intelligent people worked on this film. They must know it's drivel. Were they really being post-modern? I don't know, but the upshot is that this film's script is sentimental sludge with some nuggets of outright genius for the Bad Movie Connoisseur. The basic plot structure is straight from Dr Seuss, but you can't blame this on him. Momsen's idiot father has a hilariously unmotivated change of heart for the confrontation with Jeffrey Tambor, for instance. Similarly Momsen climbs up to the top of a sledge full of a ton of stolen Christmas goodies for no reason at all, despite the fact that it's teetering on the edge of a lethal precipice and about to slide over. It's glutinous, sickly sweet and, to me, mystifying.
It's extraordinary. Half the time we're cheering on a black-hearted misanthropist, yet every so often Ron Howard tries to kill us with schmaltz. You've also got a weird attempt at anti-commercialism that's straight from the original Seuss and done as convincingly as marshmallow bullets, yet there's a big scene in the middle where Carrey gets hold of it and really seems to be saying something.
Look out also for the wife-swapping party and the gag about a baby looking like the mother's boss rather than her husband.
As a film, I think it's admirably whole-hearted but hitting some notes that make your head hurt when put alongside each other. They're strong notes, mind you. The production is Oscar-winning and Jim Carrey's holding it together like a master, even in the finale where (of course) his heart grows three sizes bigger and the audience should theoretically have been projectile-vomiting. Without Carrey, this wouldn't have been half the film it is, although I'm intrigued by the fact that Eddie Murphy and Jack Nicholson were also considered for the role. Still more mind-blowingly, for a while Tim Burton was thinking about the job. Wow. Even as it stands it already feels a lot like The Nightmare Before Christmas, with a monster dressing up as Santa Claus in a gleefully evil attack on all things good and Christmassy.
Oh, and it's also a musical. Momsen gets a number to herself, while Carrey gets to do "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the 1966 Chuck Jones version.
I really liked it. I just had to spend about ten minutes hitting my head against heavy objects afterwards to knock out the Hollywood bullshit. It's capable of being both fluffy and sharp. It's heroine is the moppet to end all moppets, but the Grinch's old love interest is being deliberately characterised as a vapid bimbo. It's often very funny. I also found it surprisingly emotional (in a good way), with some really nice stuff from Momsen and Carrey. Overall, I'd say it works, but with extreme lapses. Well worth watching if you don't mind a bumpy ride, although I say that as an admirer of Jim Carrey.
"Nice kid. Bad judge of character."