Jim Carrey is obviously known best as a comedian and comedic actor, and his style is very much all about his flamboyant actions. From his ability to his contort his face, and his wild man antics in his performances Carrey is not always known for taking the subtle approach. In the role of Joel Barish Carrey is a very different actor. It is not even the case that the role of Joel Barish is Carrey being cast against type, that's not really the case as it is very easy to see how Carrey could have gone down a more usual path with his performance, but rather he chooses to give an extremely atypical performance. Carrey is at his most reserved here as he plays Joel Barish who there is nothing overly special about him technically speaking. When we first meet him he is simply going to work, somewhat pondering his problems in regards to love where he seems to meet Clementine (Kate Winslet) for the first time. Now she on the other hand is rather flamboyant in her personality but despite this contrast the focus of the film is on their relationship together.
But before I get to the crux of the film I want to focus a bit more on simply Carrey's portrayal of Joel, which is so different from his other work as an actor. The funny thing is that technically this is a comedic performance in nature yet not once does Carrey really go for any humorous type of style with his performance. There are even scenes where this might seem like the extremely obvious thing to do such as when Joel visits his memories during his childhood and technically Carrey is playing Joel as a kid. That would seem time for Carrey to go for his usual routine, but Carrey still plays these scenes basically to the point. They of course comedic in nature anyway, but Carrey never takes them to make an absurd spectacle of himself. There is an absurdity of course in there as a grown man is being a child of himself, but again Carrey really let's it all play out in its own still quite effective yet rather understated way much like the entirety of his performance.
Carrey, with his performance, works in creating the very particular tone that film develops. Carrey seems absolutely of the atmosphere that the film creates in his approach to Joel particular manner. It is a very interesting characterization that Carrey makes in Joel Barish as he realizes Joel as such a particular sort of man. Carrey plays the part with a quiet earnestness, yet a certain shyness as well as he makes Joel so very particular without ever seeming quirky in any way. Carrey always made me feel I know exactly the type of guy Joel is and Carrey does wonders in almost making the dreamy quality of the film with his somewhat breezy style of performance. The thing is Carrey makes Joel light in a way while never making this just a light sort of performance. Instead he realizes this quiet manner so well that even as Joel is going through some rather intense emotional turmoil due to the sudden and very odd thing that happens to him Carrey stays fairly understated yet it always seems exactly how Joel should be.
Now what truly makes the film special in terms of the performances is the chemistry between Carrey and Winslet. When naming two actors before this film this duo probably would not be the first to many people's minds as a perfect pair for a film but one could not ask for a stronger chemistry between two actors than what is displayed between Carrey and Winslet here. The film has an interesting progression as the film actually starts at the end (and technically beginning) of their relationship. In their very first scene together though it seems as though Joel and Clementine are meeting for the first time. Winslet plays Clementine as very much forward and extroverted which is quite different from Carrey in his rather reserved work. Most of the talking is done by Winslet in the scene yet you see two people coming together so eloquently and believable despite their differences. Carrey is terrific in the way he balances the shyness of Joel with notable but subtle enthusiasm toward Clementine. It's a delicate dynamic but one that is perfectly realized by both Winslet and Carrey.
We fairly quickly though jump into seeing the final stages of their old relationship which was erased from their memories. It is terrific how naturally they showed the start of love then proceed to show the dismantlement of it. Both once again are great in the way they show how respectively the two of them have seemed to have lost their connect. Winslet shows a distance through Clementine as seeming to have lost interest with Joel, while Carrey on the other hand portrays Joel as basically a desperate and bitter man who seems to have only become more introverted from having lost the spark in this relationship. The sudden jump is brilliantly handled by them as they are absolutely convincing in both the end and beginning of their relationship. Of course the rest of the film mostly depicts Joel as he tries to hold on to his memories of Clementine even though he has already given into having the procedure done. This leaves Joel in an attempt to try to hide in his other memories in a futile attempt to hold onto the slowly diminishing memories he has of Clementine.
These scenes really are a technically odd set of scenes with their often surreal imagery as well as the way it is often comedic in style despite the fact that it is truly a romantic idea that is foundation for it all. The romantic elements technically are quiet low key in every way even in the way in which Carrey and Winslet play it. The thing is though there is such a warmth and honest connection the two are able to make through the characters even when they are doing things that might seem a bit strange. They are consistently funny without being ever cloying yet still make the strange things they do at time feel natural part of their relationship. What is the best part of it is how lovely they make all of it together, and Carrey and Winslet make it seem that Joel and Clementine should be together despite the fact that they seem destined not to be. They beautifully realize this bizarre dynamic and make it heartbreaking in its own very unusual way. The film is well directed, but it could have just been a series of cool looking images, the emotional core of the film comes from the great performances of Winslet and Jim Carrey which seem to be in perfect tandem.