We all have times
in our lives that make us wish things had happened differently. For
Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey), that moment comes just as his life seems
to be coming true. A budding screenwriter, he has scored his first big
credit, on a "B" picture, Sand Pirates of the Sahara, that opens
at the Grauman's Chinese Theater on the bill with The African Queen.
On the eve of his
triumph, Peter gets accused of having been a communist in college. This
is the era of the Red Scare and the McCarthy Witch hunts, and Peter's
career may be ruined before it can really take off.
As important as
all this may have been historically, it really only serves as an excuse
to bring Peter to The Majestic. And though the film wants really
badly to be a feel good homage to the work of Frank Capra, giving it
a real world background threatens to drag it down.
Not that Capra
was afraid of reality; his films always flirted with personal disaster.
But they also dealt with men of integrity pushed to their limits; Peter
is limited by his lack of integrity.
Faced with ruin, he
drinks himself near senseless and accidentally drives off a bridge. Waking
up on a beach near Lawson, a small town somewhere in Northern California,
he might as well be in Oz. He has no memory of his life in Hollywood,
but he does resemble Luke Trimble, a young man from Lawson killed in World
War II. At least, Luke's father Harry (a somewhat manic Martin Landau
trolling for another award) takes him to be Luke, and the rest of the
town soon follows suit.
Only two suspicious
voices raise, those of Luke's fiancée Adele (Laurie Holden) and Bob
Leffert (Karl Bury), one of the few sons of Lawson who returned from
the war. Adele puts her doubts aside, though, as she sees Luke re-awaken
the town and his father's spirit, centered in The Majestic, the theater
that the Trimbles had run until Luke's "death."
Yes, The Majestic
intends to be a feel good movie that celebrates the healing power of
the cinema. Earnest and heartfelt, it has its moments, and we could
do worse this year than echo Capra. But the screenplay, by Michael Sloane,
stitches together so many elements from the master (and another, Preston
Sturges, whose Hail The Conquering Hero also had a case of mistaken
identity and war heroism) that it's more like Frankenstein than Frank.
The film has the
requisite archetypes standing in for characters. Doc Stanton (David
Ogden Stiers) is the kind of doctor they don't make anymore, making
house calls and not asking for proof of insurance. Though Adele has
studied to become a lawyer and passes the Bar exam, she's really there
to look pretty and steadfastly inspire, just like Donna Reed. Why, she
even has a quirky nervous hiccup problem, a character bit quickly mentioned,
demonstrated, and then never heard from again.
That it works as
well as it does must be attributed to the film's truly great cast. Stiers,
Jeffrey DeMunn and James Whitmore all have a great likeability as the
Lawson's leading lights. As the suspicious but yielding Adele, Holden
gives weight to an underwritten role, though she seems too much a modern
girl to fit in 1952.
In Capraesque tradition,
director Frank Darabont has not skimped on his minor characters, either.
The staff of The Majestic consists of ticket taker Emmett Smith (Gerry
Black) and candy clerk/town music teacher Irene Terwilliger (Susan Willis),
both of whom have memorable personalities. They could easily fit in
the last movie The Majestic showed before it closed -- It's A Wonderful
As for Carrey,
he tackles what may be the hardest role of his career: being just another
joe. He may not quite be there yet, but this is a good step forward.
When he flashes an embarrassed smile, he certainly has the star wattage,
though in a couple of places you'll be positive something wacky is about
to take place.
This role does
have more emotional depth than Truman Burbank, and in a few scenes Carrey
shows a side that movies have not allowed him before now. Peter experiences
real love, real loss and real growth as a character. If Carrey finally
gets his coveted Oscar nomination, the Academy has committed worse crimes.
But not even the
energy of this cast can keep the film from dragging in places. Darabont
has a love of the stately, which worked for The Shawshank Redemption
but started to get wearing in The Green Mile. It hurts here,
because though we want to be moved, the major set pieces linger just
a little too long. Emotional struggles play a little too obviously.
And despite a lot
that works, at two and a half hours, that Capraesque cathartic rush
at the end may be just to stand up and get blood flowing to the butt
What's It Worth? $6.50