A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bruce Almighty is a 2003 Jim Carrey movie concerned with fate, prayer, and spirituality. In spite of these loftier themes, it's still a Jim Carrey comedy, with hammy physical humor, profanity, and sexual humor and content. For example, given God-like power, Carrey's Bruce immediately uses the power to make a woman's dress rise up on the street, then has a monkey come out of the rear end of one of the thugs who had previously beaten him up. A recurring joke in the movie concerns Bruce's dog and his inability to be properly house-trained; as "God," Bruce has his dog use the toilet. All in all, Carrey's humor is a bizarre, incongruous pairing with deeper themes of spirituality.
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What's the story?
Jim Carrey is Bruce Nolan, a TV news reporter who wants to do serious stories and thinks he should be the anchor. When he loses that job to a rival (Steve Carell), Bruce furiously explodes on the air and is fired. He thinks that life is very unfair, so he complains to God. God (Morgan Freeman) challenges Bruce to try out His powers, as long as he doesn't tell anyone or interfere with free will. Bruce spends the first week using the powers for cheap thrills (i.e. he parts the red soup instead of the Red Sea and makes the cars blocking him in a traffic jam move out of the way) and petty payback. But then Bruce has to realize that power and responsibility go together and that he can't be happy until he understands that other people's happiness has to come first.
Is it any good?
Oh, to be able to do anything without any guilt or accountability -- that part of BRUCE ALMIGHTY is fun and very funny, especially when Bruce makes his rival mess up on camera. But the part about Bruce's redemption is not successful, because viewers are never really persuaded that Bruce cares about anyone but himself. There is a hollow and even faintly creepy sense that the people behind the movie don't really believe the message themselves.
Bruce's carelessness in lassooing the moon (a reference to It's a Wonderful Life that is underscored later on when we get a glimpse of that scene on television), unleashing an asteroid, and making hundreds of lottery winners, is portrayed as humorous. Even though we get glimpses of the disasters he causes, Bruce never has to clean up the mess. And when Bruce tells God that he wants to solve the problems of world hunger and peace, God tells him that is a "Miss America answer" and His goal seems to be to get Bruce to think about what would make him happy with no regard for anyone but himself and the woman he loves. The result is a movie that, despite some very funny moments, makes the same mistake as its main character without learning any lessons about maturity or responsibility. It teeters between happily deranged comedy and sentimental fable, but is unsatisfying in both categories.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what they would do if they had God's powers. How would you decide the best way to respond to prayers? Most of the prayers in this movie are "petitionary," meaning that they are asking for something, usually love, money, or status-related. What other kinds of prayers are there?
Is it OK to laugh about God, prayer, and spirituality? Is anything off limits when it comes to comedy?
- In theaters: May 23, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: November 25, 2003
- Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman
- Director: Tom Shadyac
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language, sexual content and some crude humor
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