Jenna Elfman, Matthew McConaughey and a fine cast
tell a fun, delightful story
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Review by John Orr
This film was a surprise.
I don't share the general media drooling over Matthew McConaughey. I understand why heterosexual women and gay men might find him cute, but to me he's always seemed a mediocre actor with little screen charisma and I have never been impressed by one of his performances. So, I didn't really want to see this movie. Why bother?
But ... In "EdTV," directed by the masterful Ron Howard, all McConaughey has to do is play a basically sincere, basically nice, not very bright but cute slob.
I think maybe McConaughey has finally found his typecasting.
I'm not trying to be mean, just trying to make clear how surprised I was that I truly like and enjoy this movie, which is funny, creative and charming.
And truthfully, McConaughey does add some depth to this character, and performs quite well in a wide range of scenes, including a beautiful and immensely touching scene with Martin Landau, who plays his stepfather.
It helps that the entire film around him is absolutely delightful.
The concept is similar to that of "The Truman Show" -- a man's life is constantly on television. But, this is a more believable approach. No zillion-dollar movie set with hundreds of actors in on the con, with the central character unaware of his status as a TV star.
In "EdTV," a clever TV producer -- played with considerable wit and artfulness by the great Ellen DeGeneres -- gets the idea of finding a regular guy and paying him to live his usual life, while camera crews follow him around, broadcasting everything live.
A big search is held, in a meatmarket poolroom. McConaughey's brother, Ray Pekurny -- played by Woody Harrelson -- auditions, but it is Ed Pekurny (McConaughey) that the women in the screening room respond to, so he is asked to take the gig. And does.
His first day on the job, he starts to wake up, in his boxer shorts on his messy bed.
"Is that what I think it is?" says one of the studio executives watching the live video feed.
"I think so: A little morning chubby!" says the big boss, played by Rob Reiner.
McConaughey reaches down to his crotch -- a very man kinda thing to do in the morning -- then comes awake enough to see the camera crew.
But that's the least of his troubles when it comes to having his entire life -- outside of the bathroom -- constantly watched on the increasingly popular TV show.
There is, for instance, Shari, played with delightful charm and humor by Jenna Elfman.
At the start of the film she is Ray's girlfriend, but finds herself less and less enamored of his rude and crude ways, and more and more attracted to Ed's simple kindnesses.
Now, these people are not Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. They are not even the average elegant types one can find on Market Street in San Francisco. They are more the young bar slobs you can find in any blue-collar bar in any city, not just San Francisco, where this takes place.
McConaughey spends most of the movie looking like he hasn't shaved for about a week, and there must have been a rule for Elfman and him to roll around on the floor for a few minutes to rumple their clothing before every scene.
And Elfman's hair is frequently pretty much everywhere but where she might have wanted to go, and she is frequently puffy-faced and red-eyed from crying.
But she is completely cute and charming and a wonderful actress throughout. Truly a delight to watch, with real screen charisma.
The romance between the two of them is fun for us to watch, and a big challenge for them, what with the cameras following them everywhere.
Indeed, she eventually dumps Ed.
But therein is a chance for a romantic pursuit, which is what happens.
The supporting cast is terrific: DeGeneres has one of the film's two biggest laughs, and Martin Landau, as Ed's stepfather, has the other. Landau and McConaughey share the film's most touching scene -- truly a fine movies moment.
Sally Kirkland is great as Ed's mom, with some absolutely terrific scenes. Dennis Hopper is on hand briefly as Ed's real dad, and is excellent with the little he is given to do. Reiner is good in his small part, and Ron Howard's brother Clint is amusing to watch, as he always is, in another of a series of peculiar roles. Harrelson is good as the jerk brother. Elizabeth Hurley plays a beautiful, ambitious model who wants some time on TV with Ed. She ain't ugly. Not an appealing character, but well played.