In the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton, a hirsute and very groovy incarnation of Jim Carrey, circa 2016, reminisces about meeting the director Michel Gondry for the first time: “He looked at me over lunch, and he said, ‘Oh my God, you’re so beautiful right now. You’re so broken. Please don’t get well.’ Because, you know, [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind] wasn’t shooting for another year.” As if he is realising only this minute how insane the promise to remain mentally ill for a full year in order to produce a better movie is, he cracks a smile – a thing just shy of what an audience might picture when they think “Jim Carrey’s smile”, the wattage dimmed to roughly 70 per cent – and laughs in abject disbelief. “That’s how fucked-up this business is!”
Seventeen years after that meeting, it seems fair to say the business is still fucked. Having read Carrey’s new work of lightly autobiographical fiction, Memoirs and Misinformation, it does not seem entirely out of bounds to say that Carrey may not consider himself to be less fucked-up than he was in those days, either. His curious, frantic novel tells the story of an actor named Jim Carrey who is flailing, a recluse with an extreme Netflix addiction and two identical, identically named dogs trained to offer him affection. Like the real Jim, he is from blue-collar stock, but is now very, very wealthy; his home security system, like a cross between Alexa and an escort, has been programmed to inform him on command that he is “loved”, the better to sustain his ego. “He is so far from peak form,” we are assured, “that if you watched through a hacked security camera at this moment, you might at first confuse him with a Lebanese hostage.” Seeing a YouTube video showing the body of John Lennon, he is overcome with terror, imagining himself leaving behind an unfit and un-iconic corpse. He stumbles to the bathroom mirror, shaves, and plucks his eyebrows, sweeping bronzer on his clavicles. “Now,” he thinks with some satisfaction, “he was ready for the boys at the morgue.”
That reviewing a new novel by Jim Carrey does not rank in the top five strangest experiences of lockdown is a testament to the batshit insanity of what a great many journalists have referred to as these unprecedented, uncertain times. That a new novel by Jim Carrey contains several passages that I consider to be better than those in some of the year’s most-hyped releases is, I must say, fairly startling. It is difficult to know how far his credited co-writer, Dana Vachon, has influenced the book’s style; its blend of manic, breathless whimsy and obsidian nihilism, dark as pitch, certainly chimes with Carrey’s sensibility, particularly in light of the revelation that the image of “Jim Carrey” readying his famous visage for the morgue in case of sudden death is drawn from actual life. (“I realise,” the real Carrey told the New York Times last month, “that there will be selfies taken when my body falls.”)
The novel has an almost Pynchonesque disdain for narrative convention, not to mention an equally Pynchonesque surrealist streak. “Jim Carrey” thinks about death, often and with relish; he begins preparing for a role with Charlie Kaufman, playing Mao Zedong; he falls in love with, and then marries, a middle-aged TV starlet, after noticing her eyes look like his mother’s; he has a brief, tragic dalliance with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator; he attends a meditation retreat at which Gwyneth Paltrow reminisces about dissecting a pig; he wrestles with Nicolas Cage. Tom Cruise appears under the withering pseudonym “Laser Jack Lightning”, having recently been introduced to Katie Holmes “in the twenty-seventh chamber of Will Smith’s backyard labyrinth.”
The prose, when it is florid, is less “purple” than “radioactive green“. Better by far are scenes in which embellishment is stripped back to its very bones, allowing for some genuinely funny satire of Hollywood’s pungent blend of vacuousness and viciousness. (Its characterisation of other celebrities is ludic, mostly loving, and just shy of being ribald enough to provoke a lawsuit.) “[Gwyneth] Paltrow was in pain,” he observes in the meditation retreat sequence. “She had spent the past week yachting off Cannes with Brian Grazer, hosted by moneyed Moroccans speaking in hushed tones, trading wheat for oil; oil for assault rifles; assault rifles for artillery shells. They wanted film investments to launder dirty cash. She’d hated how this thrilled her.”
“That autumn, acting on a therapist’s advice that travel might free him from troubling dreams of his boyhood self in a cowboy outfit on a Coney Island carousel,” ”Jim Carrey” recalls, fondly, “he’d agreed to judge the Shanghai Biennale with Taylor Swift and Jeff Koons.” Most interesting are the moments in which Carrey satirises fame itself, as when “Jim Carrey“ masturbates to a deep-fake that features two femme-bodied versions of himself: “Far from wanting to sue anyone, Carrey only longed to pass through the screen…it had been decades,” he suggests, “since a film had captured him so entirely.” There is something inherently masturbatory about celebrity in the age of the internet, the longing to see and be seen in the reflective surface of a laptop or an iPhone screen as close to being literally Narcissistic as it gets. Carrey, a pre-internet star, knows that the real joke is the idea of his being relevant enough to very online Gen Z hackers to be deep-faked in the first place.
Carrey turned 58 this year, and has most recently appeared – Sonic the Hedgehog notwithstanding – in the HBO show Kidding, a bleak comedy about a Mister Rogers type whose teenage son dies in a car crash. Michel Gondry, casting him again to play the lead, reiterated that the quality he loved most about Carrey was his sadness, his ability to suggest a fragmented inner life. “He is a bit more damaged,” he suggested to an interviewer at The Guardian. “As you get older, the skin gets a little [drier], so when he moves you see what’s underneath.”
What is underneath has always been the most compelling thing about the actor, his most family friendly characters still underscored by something threatening and perverse. The Carrey who appears in Memoirs and Misinformation fantasises about earning the approval not only of the Academy, but of Daniel Day-Lewis. The real Carrey may not know that he is already a favourite of Paul Thomas Anderson, who said in 2018 that he loved The Cable Guy because it shared exactly the same qualities as its lead actor, being “so fuckin’ peculiar”, “really dark and nuts”, and “fuckin’ brilliant”. Anderson might be the best director possible to engineer the comeback so desired by “Jim Carrey“ in the novel, should the actual Carrey share the same ambition. Memoirs and Misinformation is a trip, a sprawling mess that took eight years for Carrey and Vachon to write. It could have used another year of editing. Still, as a message to the industry, it serves as a reminder of the actor’s most unusual qualities. It is less Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff than it is an extremely unconventional curriculum vitae: it announces that Jim Carrey is still “so fuckin’ peculiar”, in a good way.