Bedazzled (review)

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The Devil and Mr. Fraser

He doesn’t talk out of his butt like Jim Carrey, nor has he made a career of playing borderline imbeciles like Adam Sandler, which is probably why I like Brendan Fraser’s brand of comic acting so much. Unlike Carrey and Sandler — it pains me to even mention them in the same breath — Fraser puts as much emphasis on acting as he does on comedy, creating real characters we can sympathize with and laugh with rather than caricatures we’re merely meant to laugh at. And the self-effacing, unself-conscious charm with which he seduces us to laugh with him is why Bedazzled is so much fun.

This is entirely Fraser’s movie, though, so if you’re not as taken with him as I am, you’ll probably want to take my comments with a grain of salt. Utterly forgettable once you leave the theater, Bedazzled is nevertheless good, surprisingly clean fun while you’re in it, but I am willing to admit that I doubt I could separate my reaction to Fraser from my reaction to the movie as a whole. End of disclaimer.
Computer help-line operator Elliot (Fraser: The Mummy, Gods and Monsters) is lonely. He hasn’t quite copped on to the fact that his coworkers do not want to see explicitly detailed photos of his new sound system, nor do they particularly care for his tired jokes. He worships coworker Allison (Frances O’Connor) from afar but is almost too shy to approach her… and when he does work up the nerve, he simply doesn’t know how to talk to her. And then the most unlikely thing happens: The Devil (Elizabeth Hurley: EDtv, My Favorite Martian) overhears his fervent wish that Allison could be his, and she grants him seven wishes to make all his dreams come true. All she asks in return is his soul. Comedy, naturally, ensues.

Hurley and Fraser are wonderfully matched. She makes for a sweetly seductive Satan, one who plays at being evil rather than actually embodying it, as if she can’t quite live up to her own PR, and doesn’t want to. And his Elliot may be a dork, but he’s an agreeable and gentle one, a Nice Guy who just needs to learn that being “nice” does not mean being a doormat, that a little sensitivity paired with a little assertiveness go a long way.

Elliot learns that lesson through the adventures his wishes take him on, disasters that bring to mind the axiom “Be careful what you wish for…” Ill-phrased wishes cast Elliot as the leading man in a series of wickedly funny vignettes that satirize not only unrealistic male stereotypes — the rich and powerful man, the emotionally sensitive man, the athlete, the intellectual — but also indecisive women who can’t quite reconcile the things they say they want in a man and the things they actually do want.

This is a comic tour de force for Fraser, so genially willing to make a fool out of himself and send up his own good looks in the cause of comedy while still maintaining likable Elliot under all the unlikely other men he becomes. Elliot’s nerdiness may be slightly exaggerated at first, but never to the point at which he becomes a cartoon… and the exaggeration becomes, in retrospect, as much as a parody of maleness as the fantasy Elliots are. Elliot, as the film opens, is an annoyance to everyone around him not because he is being himself but because he isn’t — he tries too hard to fit in with the gang. And once he learns, through his devilish misadventures, that being happy isn’t about changing yourself and being something you’re not but just figuring out who you are in the first place, well, things turn around for him quite nicely.

Is this a film that will be lauded a century from now? Will we even be talking about it next month? Of course not. But in the wake of the mean-spirited Meet the Parents, it’s refreshing to find a comedy so frothy, sweet-tempered, and ultimately optimistic as Bedazzled.

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