THE CABLE GUY. Once misunderstood comedy, today a VISIONARY thriller

Despite Carrey’s enormous salary, the film turned out to be one of the first failures in his career – at least according to the critics of that time.

Szymon Skowroński

21 October 2023

the cable guy

Jim Carrey waited a long time for success, but he also worked hard for it. He took his first steps in show business in the early eighties, playing bit parts and extras, appearing in several Clint Eastwood films, and performing in comedy shows. Finally, in 1994, three films were released where he played leading roles – “Dumb and Dumber,” “The Mask,” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Overnight, he became America’s favorite comedian. His persona exploded on the screen with charisma. The combination of classic slapstick – physical comedy – with a nearly supernatural facial expression that seemed rubbery turned out to be a bullseye. More offers quickly followed, and in 1996, Carrey signed a check for twenty million dollars for his performance in “The Cable Guy.” Legend has it that during negotiations, Carrey’s managers and lawyers were instructed to wear costumes straight out of Ace Ventura to maintain the right perspective and get into the mood of the moment. Despite Carrey’s enormous salary, the film turned out to be one of the first failures in his career – at least according to the critics of that time.

In the box office, the film did reasonably well, but the specific atmosphere presented on the screen did not appeal to anyone. Suspended somewhere between grotesque and a pure thriller, “The Cable Guy” was by no means what the audience expected from Carrey – another brilliant, relaxing, mindless comedy. It was something more, and, moreover, it forced people to think and reflect. Viewed years later, it turns out to be a brilliant genre mix, and its message seems more relevant and intriguing than on the day of its premiere. The initial plot point somewhat refers to the classic buddy comedy, with Matthew Broderick as a likable guy trying to get over a breakup, moving into a new apartment. What does a thirty-something bachelor need in his apartment besides a bed, a few pieces of furniture, and kitchen appliances? Of course – cable television, offering a 24-hour stream of information, entertainment, drama, comedy, promotions, replacing human relationships. Broderick orders a TV package. After a few days, the titular cable guy – played by Jim Carrey, with his protruding lower jaw, speech impediment, and overpowering personality – appears in his apartment. It is immediately clear that he wants something more than just providing a simple cable connection service. The men soon become friends, somewhat against Broderick’s will. However, the cable guy turns out to be a great companion, helpful, considerate, and ready to fulfill any request. In fact, ready to fulfill it before it is even expressed. Things start to get weird…

One might suspect that the audience of that time expected a slightly different turn of events. The friendship between a sympathetic guy trying to win back his girlfriend and a somewhat strange but good-natured cable guy should have evolved into a bromance, summed up with symbolic engagements, affirmation of brotherly love, perhaps on the scale of “The Hangover,” where the wedding is the wedding, but male friendship and solidarity turn out to be the highest value. By the halfway point, “The Cable Guy” seems to be heading in that direction, only to effectively crush expectations in the plot twist. The further into the film, the less comfortable it becomes. Carrey’s behavior stops being cute and starts showing psychopathic tendencies. And although everything indicates that we have shifted from a buddy comedy to a stalker thriller, there remains hope until the end that the titular character will repent, understand his mistake, and everything will be forgiven, treating the whole thing as a good joke. As the finale approaches, laughter is replaced by genuine tension and anticipation of the resolution of this intrigue…

The script of this quirky film was officially written by someone named Lou Holtz Jr., but unofficially, it is known that many revisions and ideas were added by the uncredited Judd Apatow. If we believe the trivia section on, Holtz’s script was a silly comedy, while Apatow’s additions brought depth and character to it. Behind the camera was Ben Stiller, who turned out to be a surprisingly skillful director. As mentioned, the film skillfully combines two genres that do not often cooperate. Stiller adeptly distributes dramatic accents and directs Carrey well. Carrey’s character is bizarre from start to finish but evokes sympathy. When he transitions from the role of an intrusive friend to that of a classic psycho, he does so very credibly. Broderick and the supporting cast are more of a support for Carrey, who reigns over the screen. Still, it must be admitted that the supporting cast is quite impressive: we have Jack Black, still before his greatest successes; Leslie Mann; Owen “Wow” Wilson; veterans Diane Baker and George Segal. There are also two brilliant cameos – Ben Stiller himself and Eric Roberts.

Visually, the film does not present anything characteristic of a comedy. At times, one might even get the impression that they are not watching a film by Ben Stiller – a specialist in clowning – but something by Brian De Palma! Yes, both the lighting and the width of the frame, and the camera movements bear the hallmarks of the highest level of a thriller. There is an unsettling amount of darkness here; the image is bathed in the characteristic blue-steel color dominance of thrillers from the nineties. Carrey is filmed several times from strange perspectives, such as through the peephole in the door using a wide-angle lens, which conveys the paranoid nature of his character. Stiller also skillfully develops the relationships between the characters, sometimes visually distancing them from each other, and other times bringing them closer together. There is no shortage of low camera angles, making Carrey’s character dominate everything around him.

As one can imagine, “The Cable Guy” did not fare well after its premiere because it disappointed and failed to meet the audience’s expectations. It was not a typical Carrey film – although in hindsight, it can be said that it was the first example of a film in the style of a mature Jim Carrey. While his later, acclaimed roles – in “The Truman Show,” “Man on the Moon,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – were largely devoid of the overstimulated facial expressions and physical chaos, they all originated from “The Cable Guy.” Here, the actor presents the image of a lonely, probably mentally disturbed character navigating on the fringes of society. He desperately tries to fit into circumstances, find some connection between his eccentricity and the relative normalcy of the world. He tries – but he can’t. In these three mentioned films, Carrey showed a somewhat calmer side and a significant amount of self-control. In Stiller’s film, he still charges, exaggerates, and sometimes goes a step too far, but in the end – it works. Physically, we feel the unease that the cable guy generates.

“The Cable Guy” was made during the peak popularity of television. One of Carrey’s lines proves to be prophetic: “The future is now! Soon every American home will integrate their television, phone, and computer. You’ll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel or watch female wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam. There’s no end to the possibilities!” Such a state of affairs could have been foreseen. But Stiller’s film, perhaps accidentally, or perhaps entirely thoughtfully, perfectly diagnosed the condition of an individual isolated in a world of unlimited interaction possibilities. Television, and later the Internet, replaced human relationships. The film’s protagonist is condemned to loneliness because of his flaws, yet he continues to seek understanding. In this context, Broderick’s character appears as the villain – a man closed off to the needs of others, focused only on himself. Finally – Carrey portrayed perhaps the first incel in history, before that term even existed.

Szymon Skowroński

Szymon Skowroński