Farrelly, We Go Along 

Farrelly, We Go Along 

Farrelly, We Go Along 

Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 23 2000 11:30 PM

Farrelly, We Go Along 

Movies

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Me, Myself & Irene (20th Century Fox). Like its hero, the critics are divided on the new movie from the Farrelly brothers (There's Something About Mary), about a mild-mannered state trooper (Jim Carrey) with a sociopathic alter ego. No one has much to say for the plot, which "dangles incoherently" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today), but some are charmed by the film's "dopey boyish sincerity and a good-natured sympathy for the underdog" (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). Other reviewers are somewhat less patient: The gross-out jokes are "overmilked" (Wloszczyna), and "their formula of scatology, sexuality, political incorrectness and cheerful obscenity seems written by the numbers" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). What do critics agree on? For one, Renée Zellweger is "out of her element" as Carrey's love interest (Wloszczyna). The trio of African-American MENSA members—who "use the MF-word as if it were punctuation" (Ebert)—steal the show. And as for Carrey, everyone concedes that "no one does Jekyll/Hyde better" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). (A thorough explanation of multiple personality disorder can be found here. Click here to read David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

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Chicken Run (DreamWorks SKG). Critics rally around Chicken Run, the first feature-length film from Aardman Animation, the creators of the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit shorts. The claymation comedy—about some chickens trying to fly the coop—"bathes the audience in laughs" (Richard Corliss, Time) with clever riffs on the POW film subgenre of The Great Escape and Stalag 17. In addition to the "eggs-cruciating puns … there's also well-drawn dramatic conflict" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today) and "a miracle of characterization" (David Edelstein, Slate). Some reviewers note that dark plot points (the chickens face certain death if they don't escape) may put off some younger viewers: "It's probably good that McDonald's doesn't have a tie-in" (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). Another qualification: Chicken Run isn't quite as "subversive" as Aardman's justly celebrated short films (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). But adjectives like "delightful," "hilarious," and "perceptive"—and huzzahs for Mel Gibson's turn as a cocksure rooster—overwhelm the occasional faint praise. This "briskly paced epic" (Mitchell) is "enough to make you swear off fricassee for life" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (To see the real thing, visit the Poultry Page, an online zoological garden of domestic poultry.)

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Jesus' Son (Lions Gate Films). Though critics seem reluctant to embrace another movie about a scrawny, itinerant drug addict, most make an exception for Alison Maclean's "scruffy, likable new film" (A. O. Scott, the New York Times) adapted from a collection of interrelated short stories by Denis Johnson. It helps that Billy Crudup, who stars as F.H. (which stands for F— Head), "has the sort of presence that, before he speaks, announces depth of feeling" (Stanley Kauffman, the New Republic). Unlike Trainspotting before it, Jesus' Son doesn't touch off a debate about the glamorizing of drug abuse: "If drugs wreck—and sometimes take—the lives of F.H. and his misfit tribe, they also make them interesting, vivid and oddly beautiful" (Scott). Director Maclean "regularly outfoxes conventionality" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly), and most reviewers also grant that the "loose, improvisatory rhythm" (Scott) is true to Johnson's source material. Mike Clark (USA Today) gives the film its only unmitigated pan, describing it as "so episodic that it never remotely develops a cogent plot line." Richard Corliss (Time) seems to find a happy middle ground, urging viewers to "[g]raze through the vignettes and you'll find three or four tasty bits to snack on." (To purchase Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson, click here.)

Book

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What's Not To Love? The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer, by Jonathan Ames (Crown). Whether the use of "mildly" in the title is understatement depends on the temperament of the reader, so judge for yourself. Topics covered by the author with the authority of first-hand experience include "pubic lice, a near-death experience caused by excessive nose picking, and a testicular brush with a hot scalp invigorator …[t]he times he slept with a postop transsexual, had a colonic cleansing, and—'scared and middle-class'—smoked crack with a gentle transvestite on Christmas" (Margot Mifflin, Entertainment Weekly). Overall, though, critics seem more touched than horrified by Ames' essays (most of which appeared in his New York Press column), finding "a light beauty" in these pieces, "a beauty Ames conjures up in countless joyous scatological and ejaculatory moments" (Elise Harris, the New York Times Book Review). Or as Publishers Weekly writes, "[T]he book is laugh-aloud funny and delightfully wry. Above all, though, it's suffused with a wonderful compassion and sense of tolerance—Ames likes to hang with transvestites and considers his closest friend an amputee misfit whose claim to fame is the Mangina, an artificial vagina." (Read "Oy, Oy, Oy," one of the essays in this collection, here.)

Music

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Quality Control, by Jurassic 5 (Interscope). Great reviews for this hard-touring Los Angeles hip-hop group's debut album and rosy predictions for the band's future: They "breathe new life into old-school hip-hop" as they "take ill beats mined from the deepest of crates and tweak them into dirty-funk masterpieces" (Kathryn Farr, Rolling Stone). This album "brilliantly balances the retro purity rooted in the post-gangsta rap of the Native Tongues with new school innovation. … J-5 is poised to become the first from that scene to meet commercial success. Forget flimsy, red-nosed posturing and Slim Shady slapstick, J-5 makes its hip-hop solid by taking it back to homespun beats and live MCs" (Enrique Lavin, CMJ). Some complain that these "six cool, clean-living, regular fellas (three of them devout Muslims who pray five times daily)" (Brendan Mullen, LA Weekly) may walk a fine line between straight and squeaky clean—are they "rap's Sha Na Na" ? (Will Hermes, Entertainment Weekly)—but complaints are few and far between among the raves. (Jurassic 5's official site includes audio and video clips, merchandise, and tour dates.)

Television

Survivor (CBS; Wednesdays at 8 p.m.). Critics complain about everything on this "reality-based" show, in which camera crews follow a group of people "stranded" on a tropical island: The people on the island are annoying, the conditions aren't tough enough, the host is self-important, and the whole exercise is more popularity contest than physical challenge—"It's high school all over again" (David Bianculli, Fresh Air). But they also call it irresistible and point out that the show's ratings have gone through the roof, giving stodgy old CBS the best ratings and the most desirable demographic (18-49) it's ever had in that time slot. Many note that the show brings out the worst in all involved: "Are we sick people" (Craig Wilson, USA Today) to want to watch as others go hungry and get humiliated and exiled? Are the lessons it teaches—namely that "innocuous layabout trumps hard-working pain-in-the-rear every time" (Robert Bianco, USA Today)—too negative? Viewers quoted by critics are a bit less philosophical about why they like the show: "I wanted to see people eat rats" (quoted in the New York Times). (Check out the Survivor Web site here.)