Something we’re used to is Jim Carrey goofing around in front of a camera. What we aren’t used to, however, is Jim Carrey actually playing a character. In a surrealistic and peculiarly cartoony 1994-comedy called The Mask, he gets to do both.
I like Jim Carrey; he is funny, energetic and talented. But basing all his modern performances on the same type of character that got his career started gets unendurably old after a while. If I were to change the tagline for Chuck Russell‘s The Mask, I would easily go with “I was Jim Carrey-ing before it was insufferably annoying”. *Applies hipster glasses*
Based on the similarly named comics by Dark Horse, The Mask tells the story of Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey). He is an awkward banker in Edge City with a passion for cartoons. He gets his hands on a mysterious mask, which he finds by the shore of a river. This mask is no ordinary mask, however. It is a powerful artifact hidden by vikings centuries ago. Put it on and you will become an unstoppable force with abilities based on your own fantasies and desires. Ipkiss does so and becomes The Mask – a living cartoon.
His identity makes more sense to those who understand the mythology of The Mask. Others will just think the filmmakers are attempting to cash in on the same type of cartoon-y performance Robin Williams did in Aladdin. If I were to wear that mask, I would probably gain the ability to increase people’s intelligence. I wouldn’t just become a cartoon.
Ipkiss has a love interest named Tina (Cameron Diaz in her debut role), the girlfriend of mobster Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene), who wants to overthrow his superior and take over the Edge City mafia. His plan doesn’t go far but as soon as he gets his hands on Ipkiss’ mask, things change. Peter Riegert appears as Lt. Kellaway, a cop who desperately tries to stop The Mask, once Ipkiss has transformed and started his insanity.
Even to this day, the only Carrey-performance to top that in The Mask is that in Eternal Sunshine, but that was a drama. If I were to pick my favourite comedic performance from the man, I would choose The Mask. A true and funny story involves Carrey being offered 10 million dollars – yes, 10 million dollars – to star in The Mask 2, which was sadly never made, but from his experiences on the sequel to Ace Ventura, Carrey stated that playing the same character multiple times offered him no challenges as an actor. Ironic, seeing as playing the same character over and over is what his career has mostly looked like thus far.
The thing about The Mask is that it has a main character that actually requires the kind of performance Jim Carrey typically gives. You can’t pick anyone else for a role like this. You can pick anyone to play Ebenezer Scrooge, The Grinch, Count Olaf or The Riddler. As the lead in The Mask, Carrey is simply excellent. I guess it makes sense that he has been cast in such similar roles ever since, because he was so lovable here. It is still a pity, but it does make sense.
Performances aside, The Mask is an enjoyable picture with charming cartoon-effects, ‘fourth wall’ jokes which mostly work, a make-up team that clearly did a nice job with the protagonist (I especially love the teeth), lovely references to classic animations and a fascinating portrayal of the main character and his attempts to keep his other personality in check. The Mask is something to be admired.
Those of you who love over-the-top comedies and actors of modern cinema, keep in mind that if it weren’t for this movie, they probably never would’ve happened. Think about it. Most modern comedy filmmaking was most likely inspired greatly by this picture. Me personally, probably wouldn’t have minded if all these modern over-the-top comedians never came to be, but they’re big and make money and it seems that they owe their thanks to this movie.
Did I mention Ipkiss’ dog, by the way? It is one fantastic little canine. On that note, why aren’t Dog Oscars a thing yet?