So first I have to cop to my biases. I really like Jim Carrey. I liked him a thousand years ago in the oh-so-silly Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (though Courtney Cox tried desperately to ruin it), I loved him later in The Truman Show, and I really loved him as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon. I have wisely avoided some of his probably less-impressive features (The Majestic?), and so I've been able to keep a pretty good ideal of him in mind.
Well, he fucking blew my mind in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Seriously. He's GREAT. He's understated, he's believable, he's likeable, and he's so...regular. Five minutes into the film I felt like his character, Joel, was someone I knew from college or something. It was wonderful. I suspected he had depth not only as a funny-ass comedian but as a real actor, and I was so so right.
Which brings me to the co-lead,Kate Winslet: My feelings about her have been mixed. She was in Titanic. That's hard to forgive. However, I liked her in Quills (and yes, I very much liked Quills--I've seen it three times--do I have to turn in my credentials now?), and I thought she made a great Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. She was also good in Iris, but she was frankly outclassed by Judi Dench (which is not saying much--I can think of few people who would not be outclasses by Judi Dench).
But in this film, Kate Winslet shines. She's wonderful. She's so alive, so radiant, and so fucked-up. She felt like someone I knew, too, only she was someone who I wasn't sure if I absolutely loved or couldn't stand. Her "impulsiveness", her multi-colored hair, her trying so hard...it was great.
So you take these two really wonderful characters, played by actors who really know their stuff, and you put them in this completely unlikely and bizarre plot about memory erasure. Sounds like the making of something horrible, right? But it works SO well. The film is dark in places--really dark, asking questions not only about love and relationships and all that jazz, but about the relationship we have with our own minds and how much agency we really have in making the same mistakes over and over again--and in places it's hysterical. And for something that makes you think so hard about your own life, your own relationships, your own memories, you come out of it feeling amazingly good about life. And I put that on the actors and the direction--the plot isn't necessarily hopeful.
Another really stunning thing about this film was the visual effects. The low-tech spotlighting and the slow erasure of details in memory scenes was not only really cool to watch, but also really gave you a sense of being in a memory. The camera work was a little bit dizzying, though--I wouldn't suggest going on an upset stomach.
Downsides? Supporting performances, definitely. Kirsten Dunst is just bad. Her character is annoying and seems out of place, and her acting goes from mediocre to really bad. I wasn't terribly impressed with Elijah Wood, either, but honestly that could just be because I am so goddamn sick of seeing him everywhere. Tom Wilkinson, however, is great as the doctor in charge of the memory erasing procedures. He's just mad scientist enough, without going over the top. I really enjoyed his part in the film.
One other thing I have to complain about is the small role played by Jane Adams. I can't stand Jane Adams. And to be completely honest with you, it's because she bothered me so much in The Anniversary Party and I just can't get over it. That and she's way way too thin and I always get distracted from scenes she's in by marvelling at how thin she is.
All in all, it's a five-star movie and I'd highly recommend it. I know I'll be thinking about it for awhile.