Jim Carrey suddenly emerged in the mid-1990s as one of the leading comedy movie stars, after a succession of hits that included Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. He even played the Riddler — a much better movie Riddler, in my opinion, than Paul Dano’s creepy serial killer take in The Batman— in 1995’s Batman Forever.
Carrey’s momentum was slowed somewhat by 1996’s The Cable Guy, which has grown in esteem in subsequent years but landed with something of a thud upon release. But the following spring, Carrey reunited with his Ace Ventura director, Tom Shadyac, for Liar Liar, a dynamite film that gave Carrey the opportunity to engage in rubber-faced antics and riff endlessly.
Liar Liar was released in March of 1997 — 25 years ago last week — and had a delicious high concept. Carrey plays Fletcher, a divorced lawyer who frequently disappoints his young son Max (Justin Cooper), by breaking promises and prioritizing his career.
The son, upset over a missed birthday party, makes a birthday wish that his dad will lose the ability to lie — one that comes true. This causes Fletcher trouble in various areas of his life, from sex with his evil boss (“I’ve had better”), to telling the judge in open court that he’s “still upset about a bad sexual episode I had last night.”
A dynamite film that gave Carrey the opportunity to engage in rubber-faced antics and riff endlessly
Most of all, being unable to lie inhibits Fletcher’s ability to practice law, especially in a lucrative case in which he’s representing a sexpot (Jennifer Tilly) during her divorce. Meanwhile, he has to worry about his ex-wife (Maura Tierney) taking their son across the country with her new boyfriend (Cary Elwes).
Ultimately, lessons are learned, and the father finally chooses family over his work. But not before a particularly humorous final courtroom scene, featuring the important line “the fact that my client has been ridden more than Seattle Slew is irrelevant…”
Still Holds Up Today
Liar Liar is far from the most realistic movie about the legal system, nor does it paint the legal profession in an especially positive light. It paints lying as an essential skill for lawyers, and just about every lawyer character as craven and amoral.
But the film does hold up much better than some of the other comedies at a time — most notably the first Ace Ventura movie, whose entire third act builds up to an aggressively transphobic punchline.
Liar Liar had one of the better gag reels of any ’90s comedy, especially the part where Swoosie Kurtz (accurately) yells “overacter!” at Carrey:
Carrey’s initial comedy movie star run didn’t last long, and around the turn of the Millennium took a turn towards serious acting, with 1998’s The Truman Show, 1999’s Man on the Moon, and (best of all) 2003’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He would return to hit comedy with 2003’s Bruce Almighty, also directed by Shadyac.
As for that director, he suffered a concussion in a bike accident in 2007, causing him to re-evaluate his life, renounce his possessions, and open a homeless shelter. He made a documentary about this in 2010, I Am, which would be his last film until 2018’s Brian Banks, about the football player falsely imprisoned for rape.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Fubo TV, and Philo, Liar Liar has a comfortable legacy as one of the better comedies of Carrey’s 1990s run.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.