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The Cable Guy (1996) movie review

July 26, 2020

  • movies
  • films

After watching “Sonic the Hedgehog”, I thought I remembered Jim Carey in a weird quirky comedy called The Cable Guy, and it was wacky and hilarious. A quick search online made me realise I had grossly misremembered things and that this was not the wacky comedy I was remembering. I wanted to watch The Cable Guy regardless as a lot of time has passed since the film came out. Time can be in the films favour or it could be completely against it.

The Cable Guy is about a certain cable guy who goes by the name of Chip. You see, our Chip (on first glance) has problems making friends, and often crosses the line with social interactions and situations. His customer (victim) is a man named Steven who at the start of the film has issues with his cable TV. After several hours later, Chip arrives while Steven is in the shower. He rushes out of the shower to answer the door as Chip is about to leave. Chip complains about not answering. Steven retorts that Chip is hours late, to which Chip responds by calling his customer a “jack-off”.

Chip laughs off the insult, and then repairs the cable using unorthodox practices. Sure enough, the man gets good results and Steven even manages to net himself free cable for $50. From then onwards, Chip tries to coax Steven into spending more time with him. Sometimes Steven obliges, and sometimes Steven denies. When Steven denies spending time with Chip, there is always a consequence.

The Cable Guy waves between the line of dark comedy and horror. It continuously throws incredibly haunting premises of an incredibly deranged stalker with little to no boundaries and an ability to use people’s kindness in social situations to manipulate them to get what he wants (spend time with him and build/maintain a friendship). But the horror is mostly muted by the goofiness of Jim Carey’s Chip.

Carey paints Chip as this person who mentally believes he is this incredibly powerful person internally, weak person externally, but any time when Chip is forced in physical confrontation, he always ends up being the loser despite his hard-headedness. Chip is someone who manages to gain power by offering people in power free Cable, and thus has many ways to pull the strings to let his victim have it easy or as difficult as possible, so he does not need the physical strength to compete.

After all, Chip is a manipulator. He injects himself into Steven’s life. The very first interaction between Chip and Steven is Chip pushing the boundaries (which then the boundaries are continuously pushed throughout the entire film). While not verbally stated, there is body language hinting about how lonely and isolated Chip is in the social situations, especially when things do not go his way. When Steven calls off the friendship, Chip puts Steven in an incredibly vulnerable position that has huge implications for his personal life.

The only thing he does not do is control the friends he hangs around with, or swarm him with a variety of praise and criticism to prey on his insecurity. With that said, initially Chip is incredibly generous with his gifts. The gifts that Steven did not ask for is used as a bargaining chip to guilt Steven into doing things that he does not want to do. Furthermore, during the film the viewer realises there is always a catch with Chip and his “gifts”.

During the two thirds of this film, Jim Carey plays Chip as a lonely, socially awkward man. This is what makes Carey’s performance stand out. Like real manipulative relationship, you do not see it coming until it is too late, like a frog in the pan. Even at the end when Chip’s life is at stake, Steven offers to spend time with him, regardless of everything Chip has put Steven through. Steven has been thoroughly boiled.

In stark contrast, Matthew Broderick is the incredibly straight Steven to Carey’s erratic Chip. The performance of Broderick is not too great. Broderick generally has the same expression throughout when he is sad or experiencing any form of distress, and it is just a flaccid “oh no” expression that is carried across the entire film. Usually this would work against him, but Carey’s performance is so out in leftfield that it balances well.

There is a subtle message that is somewhat lost in all the craziness in the film, and that is too much cable tv is bad for you. I could not help but notice the carry over message as the same could be applied to social media. It is fine to use social media to communicate to others in balance of other hobbies and things. Solely relying on it and using it to build your world view is incredibly dangerous and toxic. Hell, the whole manipulative psycho character works even better on social media where with anonymity people feel freer to push boundaries, they would feel uncomfortable doing in person.

The Cable Guy is an OK film. I do not think it deserved the flack it received back in the 90s (although it is likely that Carey was a bit too kid-friendly to be taking on those film roles) but I can’t see it as this mastermind in comedy as other people see. My hope is that people watch it (or re-watch it) and see it for what it is – a manipulative monster who uses his perceived weakness to control people and to keep people at his level – and not some dramatic comedy (although it does have comedic elements). For what it is worth, Chip’s upbringing does not validate nor excuse his behaviour, but only starkly points out that if he cannot live his life without having excessive control on others, he genuinely needs to evaluate his behaviours and seek help.

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