The Mask

I loved Jim Carrey's mid-1990s streak of comedies when I was a child. I didn't quite understand how cruel and offensive Ace Ventura was at the time, I just rolled with the slapstick clowning and catchphrases. It's notable that Carrey has a writer's credit on that film, and a lot of it feels like a succession of comedy routines bolted onto a mystery plot that doesn't make a great deal of sense. The Mask, on the other hand, is more coherent. The plot is equally ridiculous, but there is some shape and purpose to the film – one that is moulded to Carrey's strengths, even though he didn't actually write it.

As the ridiculous TV psychologist explains – we all wear masks that help us conform to the expectations of society and allow us to get on in life. Carrey's character Stanley Ipkiss wears one all the time. He's a self-described nice guy who finishes last, helpful to the detriment of his own interests or desires. The magical mask he finds, imbued with the Norse god Loki's mischievous spirit, allows the repressed id to come out and play. Wearing the mask means liberation from your inhibitions, and all those social masks you wear in real life.

Ipkiss is set up as a hopeless romantic obsessed with cartoons, and the superhero he becomes is a reflection of that bedrock in his character. There is an unexpectedly smart twist part-way through the film when the intrepid reporter who we think will become the genuine love-interest is revealed as a sell-out. Meanwhile, the mob boss's doll, who we suspect may be out to entrap Ipkiss, turns out to be just another hopeless romantic. This was Cameron Diaz's breakout role, and she's cast very well as a kind of modern day Marylin Monroe bedazzling all the shmucks around her. There's a winning earnestness to her character that the Farrelly brothers would seize upon for There's Something About Mary.

If anything, Carrey's buffoonery as 'the Mask' is the least enjoyable part of the film when watching as an adult. Far more fun is seeing how Stanley gets trod all over in his regular life while fundamentally remaining a decent guy – essentially the same set-up that would win Carrey plaudits for The Truman Show. While Ace Ventura is crude, mean and horrifically homophobic and transphobic, there's a fairytale quality to The Mask that makes it hold up far better 20 plus years later.

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