Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936, 2002)


“I wish everyone could get rich and famous and everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.”—Jim Carrey, actor

In most rags to riches comedies, the protagonist gets everything he ever wanted only to realize there’s more to life than fame and fortune. However, 1936’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with Gary Cooper and the 2002 version Mr. Deeds with Adam Sandler are a little different; these movies have a protagonist that gets what everyone else wants and shows them that it’s not the answer. While their character arcs suffer a bit because they don’t go through much of a change over the course of the movie, it is refreshing to see main characters who don’t turn into total d-bags when life hands them success a silver platter.

Mr. Deeds’ success comes in the form of an inheritance from an estranged millionaire (and in the 2000’s version, billionaire) uncle. When Mr. Deeds moves to New York City to sign all the papers, the newfound wealth shows this Mayberry hick the shallow side of humanity. People put on a front to stay on good terms with the richest man in America, but behind his back they make fun of his tuba playing and cheesy poetry writing. Even his new girlfriend is an undercover reporter.

I appreciated both interpretations of Mr. Deeds. Gary Cooper is suave and innocent. Adam Sandler is charmingly annoying and, well…Adam Sandler. While I don’t think the two would have been friends in real life, they remind us that you can be a kindhearted person with the right priorities regardless of how you’re wired socially.

The above quote from Jim Carrey immediately popped into my head when I sat down to write this post. Carrey’s own life is a rags to riches story. His family lived in a camper and each took shifts working at a local factory.

Jim Carrey had a knack from comedy, so he dropped out of high school at 19 and moved to Los Angeles. Like many rising actors, he dreamed of making it big, but his career was off to a rocky start. Carrey said in an Oprah interview: “I wrote myself a check for 10 million dollars for acting services rendered, and…I dated it Thanksgiving 1995. And I put it in my wallet, and it deteriorated and deteriorated. But then just before Thanksgiving 1995 I found out I was going to make 10 million dollars on Dumb and Dumber.”

There is a healthy balance to be found between Mr. Deeds and a character like miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, for example (played by Jim Carrey in 2009). We shouldn’t be afraid of wealth, but we also shouldn’t put it on the highest pedestal in our lives. Jim Carrey’s motivational check-writing exercise seems come from the right place. Money can serve as a proverbial finish line for our goals, as long as we still see it that way when we “arrive.”

It’s important to remember that financial success is a good thing, but like Mr. Deeds we should not forget to see the value of tuba solos, greeting card poetry, and all the other things we love.