When I was a kid, Liar Liar was a staple in my household. It was just one of those films that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it and it happens to be on TV, must be watched. Despite it being only one of several comedies that make up Jim Carrey’s impressive filmography, Liar Liar is perhaps one of the funniest and most entertaining of his films. And even in its most zany and crude moments, the film has always been about the love between a father and his son and the freedom that comes with telling the truth. On the 20th anniversary of its release, I’m reminded of the reasons Liar Liar is one the films that still makes me laugh two decades later and why it stands the test of time.
“I. Can’t. Lie,” screeches Jim Carrey’s Fletcher Reed. A snobbish, piggish lawyer with seemingly no sense of a moral compass and the emotional sensitivity of a grain of salt, Fletcher is a terrible ex-husband, father, and friend. The one thing he is good at is lying to get his way. Naturally, the film has Carrey glide around as a lawyer with the expensive suit, expensive office, and expensive car. All at the expense of his marriage, his son, and his ability to sympathize with anyone.
Jim Carrey has always been over the top in his comedic roles, see: Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber. But what makes Liar Liar one of his standout comedic performances is the fact that there is a moral to the story and it’s centered around his character being a good father and loving his son enough to tell him the truth. In every scene, Carrey’s eyes gleam with a childish glee that fits the tone of the film. His spontaneity is magnified rather than limited by the boundaries of the film. And the film has boundaries, but Carrey is able to unleash his comedic insanity while still allowing the story to remain grounded in its themes.
Liar Liar spotlights the physical humor that Carrey has shown restraint in post Bruce Almighty. An example of this is in the scene with him and the pen. The comedic actor is fighting with a pen for minutes on end, trying to make himself write down a lie, and it is one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Carrey throws himself across his office table, has a stare-down with the pen (that is blue, not red, thank you very much), destroys his office, falls to the ground, pants, scoffs, runs around, bangs his head and body against multiple surfaces, and makes weird and pained faces. By the end of it all, he looks physically exhausted, like he’d just climbed a mountain and collapsed at the top. This single scene cleverly showcases Carrey’s extensive comedic chops that go beyond just talking a mile-a-minute and ad-libbing, which he does a lot in this film, too.
I can make the case that Liar Liar, deep down, is essentially a family film (with some crude humor). At least it was considered to be in my house growing up. I still quote it and my brother has reenacted the pen scene, down to the last detail. It’s a simple film with a simple plot. Carrey’s obnoxious character (at least until the final third of the film) is tempered by the sweet innocence of Max Fletcher, played by the then five-year-old Justin Cooper. Without the family element, Liar Liar would have just been another comedy and it wouldn’t have carried the same amount of emotional weight. It’s the relationship between Fletcher and Max that provides the film with a deeper connection and heartfelt moments that feel genuine. When Carrey and Cooper interact– like in the scene where Max tells Fletcher that, despite adults lying to him all the time to spare his feelings, Fletcher is the only one who makes him feel bad–it’s hard not to become invested in their happiness. Their relationship is the core of the film and grounds the film amid the ludicrous behavior running rampant throughout.
Twenty years later and Liar Liar is probably one of the slightly overlooked films in Carrey’s career, with most people citing his other roles like The Mask and Bruce Almighty when referencing his comedies. The film’s humor has managed to age well. It’s still outrageous, still full of slapstick comedy, and yet the film is surprisingly sweet. The weight of the film is carried on Carrey’s shoulders, but the supporting cast’s ability to roll with everything that comes out of his mouth is truly amazing. Whether it’s the film’s zany humor, its excessive insanity, or its thematic lesson about telling the truth, it’s all wrapped in a simple film that has outstanding comedic timing. Whether it’s my nostalgia or the fact that it remains a go-to pick-me-up whenever it happens to be playing on TV, Liar Liar continues to withstand the test of time and boasts one of Jim Carrey’s best comedic performances.