The Cable Guy

thecableguy009dd1The guy has a few problems. His childhood reads like a list of suburban despair: abusive dad, oblivious bar-hopping mom, electronic babysitter. His adult life is terribly empty and lonely, and the loneliness expresses itself in anti-social spasms of weird aggression. He’s clingy and annoying at best, violent at worst. His basic need is the same as anyone’s: to be loved and accepted. Yet, because of who he is and how he behaves, he can’t help pushing everyone away.

This sounds like the blueprint for a hefty drama — something Martin Scorsese might direct in a bad mood. Instead, it’s the premise of a Jim Carrey comedy. The reviews were baffled and hostile; The Cable Guy was spanked for being too dark, too creepy, “no fun.” Recall, though, that Scorsese’s 1983 The King of Comedy got whacked on the same grounds — mainly because people expected a zany Jerry Lewis comedy. Retrospect has revealed it as a misunderstood gem. I hope The Cable Guy won’t have to wait as long.

Carrey, of course, is the Cable Guy, and not just in this movie. His persona has always been plugged into pop culture; he belongs to the postmodern ironist’s tradition of Robin Williams and Steve Martin. The Cable Guy, whose entire experience of life is filtered through TV, is a classic postmodern creation — he channel-surfs through his own head. Speaking with a dopey, insinuating lisp, Carrey seems eager to go all the way into scary neediness. Overall it’s a brilliant and fearless performance, a black-comic tour de force, and maybe only the $20 million man can afford this kind of gamble.
Weaned on TV, the Cable Guy takes philosophical and sensual delight in whatever flickers across the tube. He pushes his way into the life of a yuppie customer (Matthew Broderick), offering advice, free cable services and equipment, even a prostitute. In return, he wants only friendship. But the yuppie correctly guesses that the Cable Guy demands a level of devotion that no one could give. Broderick (an excellent straight man) distances himself, but the Cable Guy keeps on coming — a sociopathic Energizer Bunny.

The Cable Guy resonates with sadness and dread, yet it’s also consistently funny (in an intensely uncomfortable way). Much of this, I assume, is due to Lou Holtz Jr.’s sharp script. And director Ben Stiller, rebounding from his freshman effort (the whiny Gen-X piffle Reality Bites), digs into the multi-levelled satire; he gives cameos to himself (as a homicidal twin) and old friend Janeane Garofalo (who effortlessly steals her scene as a jaded waitress at a medieval theme restaurant). In The Cable Guy, Jim Carrey is as rubber-faced as ever, but this time he shows us the beast behind the mask.

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