Throwback Thursday: ‘The Cable Guy’
By Stephanie Brandhuber
While others may be celebrating the 35th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the 25th anniversary of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) this week, I would like to turn your attention elsewhere. This week also happens to also mark the 20th anniversary of one of the most overlooked, under-appreciated, and misunderstood films to be released in the past two decades, which also happens to be one of the funniest, weirdest, and most terrific dark comedies out there: The Cable Guy. Telling the story of a friendship gone awry, The Cable Guy stars Matthew Broderick as Steven Kovacs, a rather uptight, 30-something Gen-X-er who’s recently been dumped by his girlfriend after a botched proposal. In walks Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey), the very weird, high-strung cable guy with a pronounced lisp, who’s been sent to hook up Steve’s new bachelor pad. An awkward friendship between the two men begins to flourish, and eventually blossoms into a hugely funny, and admittedly disturbing, tale of false identities, stalker-ish obsession, and Gen X malaise.
In the mid-90s, Jim Carrey was the biggest star in the world. He had garnered global success from his 1994 comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and had had equal triumphs with his subsequent movies, The Mask (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), and surprisingly, the not-so-great Ace Ventura sequel, When Nature Calls (1995). Each of these films racked up over $100 million in the U.S., making it quite a big surprise when his next film turned out to be a weird, dark, and very unique comedy that took Carrey’s screen persona in a very new and unexpected direction.
By late 1995, everybody wanted Jim Carrey to star in their next movie, but it was Sony who took the unprecedented step of offering Carrey $20 million, a fee no actor had ever received up-front for a single project, to star in their next film The Cable Guy. The end result was a film that no one really “got”, no one really liked, and no one really remembers. In actual fact, it was a film that was decades before its time, and which guided the way for the evolution of big-screen comedy in the years that followed. Carrey had some creative clout, and managed to persuade Sony to hire a young man called Judd Apatow to produce and rewrite the film. However, when Apatow’s hopes of directing the film were dashed, he handed the reigns over to Ben Stiller whom he had worked with on a Fox sketch series called The Ben Stiller Show.
The new version of the script had heavy rewrites by Apatow, and yet, somehow, he was denied any credits by the Writers Guild of America. The Stiller-Apatow collaboration was a much darker film than Sony were expecting to get. Nonetheless, the studio tried to market The Cable Guy as a light comedy, which is potentially why audiences did not take well to the film with which they were presented. Carey wasn’t the wacky, goofball people had been used to seeing in his previous films, and was instead a creepy, unhinged, psychopath. Carrey was still using his rubbery face to his full advantage, but people just didn’t seem to want to see Carrey in a darker light.
It’s such a shame that The Cable Guy wasn’t made in more recent years, as it’s exactly this darker genre of comedy that has had such a success in recent years: In Bruges (2008), Snatch (2000), and basically anything made by the Coen brothers, to name but a few. Carrey’s performance in The Cable Guy, paired with Ben Stiller’s directorial vision and talent, delivered what I consider to be one of the most overlooked, hilarious comedies of the 90s. Whether you’ve never seen The Cable Guy before, or you’re a a diehard fan, do yourself a favour and celebrate this ingenious masterpiece’s anniversary by watching it as soon as you can.
(Photos copyright: Columbia Pictures, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, Licht/Mueller Film Corporation)