The Split Tonal Personality Of ME, MYSELF, & IRENE
The Farrelly Brothers really came out swinging. Their first film, Dumb and Dumber, is probably their most iconic. Their next, Kingpin, is the fan favorite. And a lot of people consider their third, There’s Something About Mary, an all-out masterpiece.
And then they fell into something of a slump. Before they did, however, they gave us the underrated Me, Myself, and Irene. Made when the Farrelly Brothers name (and Jim Carrey as a comic lead) still meant a lot to people, the film has remained on the cusp of falling into obscurity since it hit home video. It’s not quite Stuck on You, but it’s close.
The film is special, however, for how it uses the Farrelly Brothers’ trademark gross-out humor and Jim Carrey’s still impressive physical comedy skills in service of a surprisingly deep look at one character. Yes, a cow survives getting shot several times in the head, and a giant dildo gets enough screen time to almost deserve credit as a supporting actor, but none of that betrays or gets in the way of the simple and sad story at the center of the film.
I say simple, but the core conflict here is dense enough that it takes a whole fifteen minutes of backstory to set up. Jim Carrey plays Charlie, a kind and noble police officer who finds himself cuckolded by the love of his life and abandoned with three kids who he obviously did not sire. Instead of reacting and moving on, Charlie enters a state of denial and emotional numbness, which basically makes him a big pussycat everyone walks all over and treats like shit.
The film doesn’t really begin until the day Charlie gets pushed too far and has a mental break that manifests in a split personality. Sometimes Charlie is Charlie; sometimes he is Hank, a mean jerk who sounds like a bad Clint Eastwood impression and doesn’t take any guff from anyone.
The Farrelly Brothers use Hank in a few different ways that shouldn’t work well together yet do. For one, he offers the film a lot of nasty comedy moments. Two, he gives audiences the vindictive pleasure of seeing someone who messed with Charlie get comeuppance. And three, he provides the film with a villain Charlie has to defeat if he’s going to finally move on with his life.
It’s this last point that’s most interesting and shouldn't work with the other two. It would have been the most tempting thing in the world to make Hank this badass we love having around, cleaning up Charlie’s wimpy messes. But that’s not really his role. From the first time we see him, we find a guy whose anger and retribution far outsizes the crimes in front of him. He nearly drowns a girl for giving him sass. To get back at a guy who treated Charlie like a servant, he drives the guy’s car through a storefront window. A beautiful woman breastfeeding her baby (who never did anything to Charlie at all) looks down to find Hank taking that meal instead.
Almost immediately, the Farrelly Brothers refuse to utilize Hank as just a funny “Charlie, but with balls.” He’s a menace and, even worse, a raging bully. And while he lacks fear, he ends up getting the shit kicked out of him way more than he ever triumphs in a fight. It’s no wonder Irene, the one person who gets to know both Charlie and Hank (intimately), repeatedly asks for Charlie back whenever Hank pops up.
This makes sense because Charlie’s not just nice, he’s super nice. Part of the point is that he’s nice to a fault, but the movie never really makes that case outside of how it affects his work as a police officer. The Farrelly Brothers do, however, go pretty far out of their way to make us love Charlie through his relationship with his ex-wife’s three (large, black, and super-genius) sons. They aren’t his, but he raises them with love anyway, and as a result they love him back and fight for him when he gets into trouble. He doesn’t resent them or judge them or even try to stop them from swearing as much as they do (and they swear a lot). Despite living in a town that laughs behind his back, Charlie’s life is really quite rich with love. He’s not exactly at a deficit without Hank around.
This shouldn’t be any easy character to mine for comedy, yet Charlie gets as many of the film’s laughs as Hank. A lot of it comes from his interactions with his sons, but the infamous cow scene offers a perfect example of how the Farrelly’s brilliantly find ways to get their brand of comedy out there without ruining this character. Charlie and Irene find a dead cow on the side of the road. Upon trying to move it, they discover it’s not dead, so Charlie has to put it down himself. Carrey plays it totally sincere, and we feel the difficulty Charlie has pulling the trigger on this poor animal. But, of course, it’s not dead, and a panicky Charlie ends up emptying his gun into the cow’s head. When that doesn’t work, he chokes it to death (we find out later that this tactic didn’t work either). It’s silly and kind of gross, but it still ends up being a strong character moment for Charlie at the same time.
So we have this nice guy. Every time his angry side lashes out, it usually ends up costing him something. It might just be an ass-kicking or it could be sex with the lady he’s starting to fall in love with. Either way, Hank makes Charlie pay, and assuming we love Charlie, this makes us kind of hate Hank.
But after establishing this, the Farrelly Brothers pull off something really incredible by making us feel sorry for Hank as well when Irene chastises him for brutally making fun of a humble albino guy, someone who absolutely did not deserve to be bullied. Hank finally starts to feel bad for the first time, which ends up being a reflection on Charlie’s better nature. Irene takes this further by making him confront the fact that when Charlie’s ex-wife left, she left Hank as well, something Hank never even considered. The realization makes him weep, and suddenly our cartoonish villain and excuse for Jim Carrey to mug all over the place gets humanized as well. It ultimately doesn’t rehabilitate Hank, but the scene is unexpected and surprisingly moving.
Charlie doesn’t have to merge with Hank and reform the old Charlie or anything quite as grand as that. He simply has to stand up for himself and regain control over his life. Irene gives him reason to do that, but she’s somewhat superfluous to the inner struggle raging within Charlie. As we watch Jim Carrey arguing and physically wrestling with himself in the film’s third act, we can laugh at the insane physical talent on display, or - if you’re the kind of person willing to go this deep with a movie like Me, Myself, & Irene - we can feel caught up in the dramatic stakes of what the character is trying to work through. The Farrelly’s don’t cheat you either way, and for such an almost-forgotten film, it’s important to point out the deeply ambitious tightrope they walked.