Reviewed by: Laura Bennett
CONTRIBUTOR—first time reviewer
pride vs. humility
|Featuring:||Steve Carell … Burt Wonderstone
Steve Buscemi … Anton Marvelton
Olivia Wilde … Jane
Jim Carrey … Steve Gray
James Gandolfini … Doug Munny
Alan Arkin … Rance Holloway
Jay Mohr … Rick the Implausible
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|Director:||Don Scardino—“30 Rock” TV series|
|Producer:||New Line Cinema
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|Distributor:||Warner Bros. Pictures|
This film is a comedy set amongst the cut-throat world of professional Vegas magicians, following childhood friends Burt (Steve Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi), who have risen to the top of their craft as an entertaining magical duo.
Initially for Burt, magic was a way to escape the bullies at school. After getting given a magic kit when he’s seven years old, he puts all his energy into it, with the belief that “everyone loves a magician.” He soon meets Anton, another “outsider”, and they find a connection through their shared interest in magic. Fast forward 30 years, and they’re now a long-standing Vegas act.
At the point in their career when we now meet them, the show looks glossy and faultless to the crowd, but for Burt and Anton it has become mundane. Pride has weaseled it’s way into the partnership, they’re verbally at each other’s throats about various mistake they blame the other for, and Burt has begun to believe he no longer needs Anton. He’s become arrogant, insincere, and demeaning, so much so that at the moment when one of his producers, Jane (Olivia Wilde), is called upon to step into the show—allowed finally to meet and talk to Burt—she comes face to face with these attitudes and soon says to him, “I’ve loved you for 10 years and you just made me hate you in 60 seconds.” (For parental reference this is due to sexually inappropriate comments made by Burt to Jane).
All happening fairly early on in the film, we’re now well and truly set up with the picture that Burt is not the person all the fans want and expect him to be. Times have changed him, and this craft that he was once passionate about has become lifeless. He needs an intervention.
In steps the unexpected catalyst, alternative magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Pushing physical boundaries, and taking his tricks beyond simple illusions and slight of the hand into a more supernatural and New Age edge, Gray is the “new breed” of magician. According to Burt and Anton’s Manager (James Gandolfini), value is found in the new, and therefore their show is now of little relevance. (Some of the scenes surrounding Steve are particularly non-child friendly.)
Now forced into retirement, and having parted ways with Anton, Burt is confronted with a life that brings no adulation, where people don’t care who he is or once was, his tricks are now “old.” This leads him to take up employment in a retirement home for former Vegas stars—all passed their prime and world-weary. You can see the sullen nature this breeds in Burt, and the life-reflection it causes him to undergo. He starts to understand the weakness in his superficial thinking, and the lack of value he gave to those around him.
Coming across one of his original inspirations, who’s now a resident, Burt’s reminded of the spark that kicked him off in the early days. He’s also, yet again, faced with what life looks like after fame, and it’s far from the expectation he’d conceived as a child. Setting that aside, Burt becomes willing to be re-taught by this mentor, and you can see him reconnect with the initial fascination and passion that first drew him in. He starts to stand up to his personal and professional inadequacies and find his former enthusiasm, now redefined by his changed attitudes.
Now, while I don’t think this was Steve Carell’s best comedy, as there is a long time between laughs, and a lot of them aren’t quite as strong as you might expect, there is a great message between the lines that perhaps doesn’t need them.
Burt is in a place where he sees he’s become a commodity. Others are now more excited about his life than he is, and he’s lost any sense of purpose—of passion, He’s become bitter.
When confronted with the reality of the life that he’d dreamed up as a kid, the gaps between his expectations and the truth of what he experienced is where his sinicism and bitterness find space to take root. He’s disillusioned, and he doesn’t really have a framework through which to deal with it.
I found this quite a relevant reality to communicate, especially now in a generation where the pursuit of fame is paramount for so many people, there needs to be attention paid to the actual life led by those in these positions of high profile.
They do face times when no one will care who you are. You will still have emotional needs and inadequacies; those aren’t “cured” by fame, and, in some respects, I’m sure that’s what the hope of those desiring fame are after.
The sense of self-worth, identity, and value that is strived for here, can only be found in Christ, because what he says of us is intrinsically fitted and mapped to the internal need we have. It’s only then, from that place of security that we can have success in any endeavor in life (whether it leads to fame or not) and still remain personally intact regardless of external circumstances.
This also links in to the issue of pride that is running rife in Burt. Having nothing to credit his success to, other than his own perceived genius, the adulation he’s received through life has bred this sickness. However, when you understand that it is God who’s given you your gifts and abilities, and that it’s He who has enabled you through grace to be good at what you do, humility becomes a natural offset. Pride only seeps in when we fail to acknowledge Him.
This film does have adult content; you’ll need to make your own decisions about when viewing. There are definite language, violence, and sexual problems contained in it. But, if at the end of the day, you do choose to see it, I’d be paying attention to the story of life it tells, and the lessons to be learned about our approach to success, and the importance of a firm foundation.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate—“Jesus,” “Oh J*sus,” “G*d-d*mn” (5), OMG (8), “For G*d’s sakes,” “God,” “Hell” (7), “damn,” s-words (8), “*ss” (6), “cr*p” / Sex/Nudity: Heavy—a lot of skin shown, some pelvic thrusting, innuendoes, crude sexual talk and jokes
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.