Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Fred Savage | Directed by: George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh | Produced by: Andrew Lazar, Steven Reuther | Written by: Charlie Kaufman, Chuck Barris | Distributor: Miramax
I don’t want to devote too much time to this thoroughly perverse piece of filmmaking, but I would like to offer the following warning: When you hear the hype this film is receiving from mainstream critics, don’t buy it—there is nothing uplifting in this self-aggrandizing, self-pitying, often-pornographic account of game-show creator Chuck Barris’ life. Unfortunately, Hollywood often equates a movie’s willingness to explore the ugliest aspects of humanity with some kind of courageous artistry (nevermind that portraying truth and beauty is an infinitely more difficult task). What is most upsetting is that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”) and first-time director George Clooney do have talent; they’ve just chosen to waste it on a project that offers a sly, cinematic wink at a parade of wickedness.
The film opens with a back-shot of a naked man who begins to reminisce about the sexual advances he made on a young girl when he was in grade school. This raunchy tone continues throughout “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, which stars Sam Rockwell as game-show creator extraordinaire, Chuck Barris.
If humiliation-based reality shows like “American Idol: and “Joe Millionaire” are an annoyance to you, this is the man you have to thank for it. Based on Barris’ highly suspect autobiography of the same name, the film accepts that, while piloting new television genres, the man behind “The $1.98 Beauty Pageant” was also a hit man for the CIA. Perhaps they should have re-titled it, “Confessions of a Deluded Mind”. Yet for all the incredulity the plot inspires, the film works—giving even the most skeptic viewers a moment of “Well, what if…?” This is based in large part on Rockwell’s astounding performance. Long undervalued as a character performer in movies like “Galaxy Quest” and “Charlie’s Angels”, Rockwell has sadly found his “break” with the most offensive material possible.
Backing up Rockwell, both Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts turn in exceptional performances, with Barrymore providing the film’s only true bright spot. Though her character is promiscuous and somewhat needy, she succeeds in giving Barris’ girlfriend, Penny, a degree of innocence and vulnerability. As for Clooney, he plays CIA Agent Jim Byrd with his usual measured, hard-tongued delivery. The only difference between this character and those he played in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Perfect Storm” is that here he has a moustache.
Famous for catering to lowest common denominator, Barris struck a chord with the American people, and seems to have hated himself for it. Perhaps that’s why he created his mercenary alter-ego. Or maybe he just saw another opportunity to laugh behind the audience’s back all the way to the bank.
Sex, vulgarity, and degradation—Chuck Barris knew how to give the people what they want. And so, apparently, does George Clooney.