For Freud, ”the return of the repressed” referred to the way socially unacceptable feelings and desires that people hold in check for the greater good invariably manifest themselves as neuroses. For newly successful performers, the phrase has a different meaning. It seems a showbiz fact of life that every time a figure in music, movies, or television suddenly makes a big splash, the dreck he or she lent his or her talents to during the early years of bitter struggle suddenly rises from the swamp of obscurity that it was heretofore so justly relegated to. Repackaged and remarketed, such items constitute a direct-to-video genre unto themselves: Early Embarrassments the Stars Would Rather You Didn’t See.
Such is the case with High Strung. To look at the cassette box, you might think it’s a new film and that nouveau comedy monster Jim Carrey is its bona fide costar. Reading the two critical blurbs on the box, you might think it’s a laugh riot. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. High Strung’s 1991 copyright appears at the tail end of the movie’s final credits; Carrey spends a total of, by my stopwatch, 4 minutes and 28 seconds on screen; and no, High Strung is not funny even once.
For Carrey, this isn’t just the return of the repressed, it’s an apt demonstration of the old saw about no good deed going unpunished. By all accounts, the then-In Living Color star contributed his cameo turn as a favor to a pal, Living writer and fellow club-circuit comic Steve Oedekerk, the movie’s cowriter and star. Oedekerk plays an ultra-cranky children’s-book writer who mostly paces around his apartment conducting a free-ranging ”comic” monologue about how much life stinks. His observations, such as they are, would get a less fortunate man a tomato facial at any half-decent comedy club. If you think I’m being a trifle harsh, enjoy this sample: ”Relationships? They shouldn’t even call them relationships. They should have a more descriptive name … Painland.” Waiter-check, please.
Oedekerk’s musings are interrupted by visits from an insurance salesman (Fernwood 2-Night’s Fred Willard), his boss’ ultraconservative wife (a haggard-looking Denise Crosby, of Star Trek: The Next Generation), and his best friend (Thomas F. Wilson), with whom he discusses the nature of free will. That’s right, he talks about free will with Biff from the Back to the Future movies.
Oh, and he also keeps seeing this disembodied face warning him to be ready for 8 p.m., when something big will occur. That’s Carrey, who turns out to be Death himself, and once he collects Oedekerk he does a lot of that rubber-jaw shtick we all know and love. All this inanity does have a punchline — in Carrey’s analysis of Oedekerk. I had drawn the same conclusion a mere 10 minutes into the film. You, on the other hand, can save yourself a few bucks by remembering that the things we repress are usually buried for good reason. D-