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Film / Liar Liar

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Note the lack of pants on fire and nose shorter than a telephone wire.

Max Reede: My dad? He's... a liar.
Teacher: A liar? I-I'm sure you don't mean a liar...
Max: Well, he wears a suit and goes to court and talks to the judge.
Teacher: Oh, I see! You mean he's a lawyer.
Max: [shrugs]

Liar Liar is a 1997 comedy-fantasy film directed by Tom Shadyac and starring Jim Carrey.

Lawyer Fletcher Reede (Carrey) is both career-focused and — as his profession demands — an expert in lying. His son Max (Justin Cooper) gets frustrated at his father always breaking his promises and not spending time with him, the breaking point coming when his father misses his birthday party (his father says he's working; his boss is actually working him). Disillusioned once again, Max wishes while blowing out his cake candles that Fletcher couldn't tell a lie for just one day.

And the wish works. For the next twenty-four hours (starting/ending at 8:15 p.m. to be specific) Fletcher is absolutely incapable of any form of dishonesty, no matter how big or small. He can't lie, mislead, withhold information, ask a question if he knows the answer is going to be a lie, or even deceive by remaining silent. He quickly finds just how much he really does lie in one day and how much trouble he gets into because of telling the absolute truth...

...on the day that not only Fletcher has one of the most important cases of his life, with defenses built mostly on lies, but Audrey (Maura Tierney), Fletcher's ex-wife and Max's mom, is interested in moving with her boyfriend Jerry (Cary Elwes) to Boston, and bringing Max along! Hilarity Ensues.

If you're looking for the trope on extremely good liars, which actually used to be named after this movie, see Consummate Liar.

Tropes used include:

  • Accidental Truth: Fletcher is forced to say the truth even when people don't know it.
  • Actor Allusion:
    Max: If I keep making this face *makes silly face* will it be stuck that way?
    Fletcher: Uh-uh, in fact some people make a good living that way.
    • Fletcher dramatically spitting out water in court is an element taken from Jim Carrey's stand-up act.
    • The courtroom scene where Fletcher gets put into contempt is an homage/ripoff to All of Me and the actor playing the judge in that scene plays the blind saxophonist in that film.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • Once he's over the shock of spitting out the truth without thinking, Fletcher chuckles over saying, "I've had better" after sex with Miranda.
    • Meta example at the end of the Blooper Reel. Carrey genuinely cracks up after his co-star (as part of a prank) calls him an over-actor mid-performance.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Richard and Samantha Cole are this. Richard Cole's age is never stated, so we don't know if this crosses into May–December Romance, but Samantha is thirty-one, and Richard looks at least 15-20 years older than her. It turns out that Samantha was only seventeen when she married Richard, but changed her birthdate on her driver's license so that she'd be able to legally get married without parental consent. The fact that she was a minor when she got married meant that the prenup was void, and thus she was still entitled to half of Richard's assets.
  • Amicable Exes: Fletcher and Audrey are this during the film's Extremely Short Timespan; they are completely civil with each other (Fletcher even takes Audrey's jabs at his infidelity in stride), and while Audrey is angry enough with Fletcher's flakiness to be willing to accept Jerry's proposal and take Max with her to Boston, she also shows genuine concern with his remorse over this trait and knows he's a good man and father when he makes the effort. After a time skip of a year in the coda, they get back together.
  • Amoral Attorney: Fletcher, at first. Miranda's Establishing Character Moment is to make it clear she prefers this from her workers — her second line of dialogue is "let the judge decide what's true or not, that's what he gets paid for; you get paid to win."
  • Answer Cut: In the beginning of the first act, which more than once portrays Fletcher as having a complicated relationship with truth and honesty, this scene is the finishing touch:
    Miranda: Fred, it's your duty to present the strongest case possible!
    Fred: The strongest case possible that is consistent with the truth. If you insist that I take it to trial, I will represent Mrs. Cole aggressively and ethically... but Miranda, I won't lie.
    Miranda: Then we'll just have to find someone who will.
    [cut to elevator doors opening to reveal a smirking Fletcher]
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Fletcher gets hit like a ton of bricks when he finally realizes how his behavior is affecting his son Max:
    Max: But I can't [undo the wish]...
    Fletcher: Why not?
    Max: Because I don't want you to lie.
    Fletcher: I explained this. I have to lie. Everybody lies. Mommy lies. Even the wonderful Jerry lies.
    Max: But you're the only one that makes me feel bad.
    [Beat as Fletcher is rendered speechless]
  • Artistic License – Cars: When Fletcher is pulled over, he pops open his glove box to reveal unpaid parking tickets. The Mercedes SL series, including Fletcher's SL500, was not equipped with a glove box due to interior space limitations. The dashboard used was from a different model.
  • Artistic License – Law:
    • Just because Samantha was a minor when she signed the prenup doesn't automatically render the contract void. It makes it voidable, which means that she would have the option of voiding it upon reaching the age of majority. And while it could be claimed that she's expressing that wish now, the fact that she's lived as Richard's wife and enjoyed the benefits of marriage could be used to argue that her actions have been affirming the prenup for 13 years. The truth is, the case would continue for a while and would most likely be decided in the husband's favor.
    • Samantha reneges on the agreement to share custody because she wants to milk Richard for child support. However, child support legally belongs to the child. If Richard proved she was spending it on herself, she'd likely lose custody.
    • Miranda says that the case is worth a lot of money to the firm. However, a divorce case cannot be paid on contingency (where the lawyer receives a percentage of the award if they win). Therefore, this case can only be worth whatever the hourly billing rate is, and there can be no huge payout for a quick decisive win. In fact, a quick win gets them less money than a long loss. This one could be handwaved, however, if you assume that what Miranda means is that the case is becoming something of a media circus (Mr. Cole was a multi-millionaire and the movie was made at the same time as the divorce proceedings that made Anna Nicole Smith a household name,) and that winning the case would be good publicity that would attract future high-profile and potentially-lucrative divorce cases to the firm.
    • The Judge held Fletcher in contempt of court despite the fact court was already adjourned. The most that the Judge could have done at that point was have the bailiff physically eject Fletcher from the building.
    • The burglar suing someone because they were injured while breaking and entering into a home? That’s a legal urban legend no such case even exists as LegalEagle points out.
    • If a lawyer was brought back from the bathroom looking quite worse for the wear by a security guard who said it looked like someone beat the crap out of him and the lawyer corroborated this, the judge wouldn't merely ask said lawyer if he's able to continue; everything would come to a dead stop, the entire courthouse would be put on lockdown save for the police, maybe even SWAT if they were called in, there would be a rampant manhunt for the person who assaulted a lawyer in a courthouse since that is hardly anything to take lightly. Once it was discovered that there was no assailant and Fletcher actually beat himself up, considering he lied to a judge and sent the police on a wild goose chase wasting taxpayer money and city resources, it is almost certain that he would be permanently disbarred, slapped with several hefty fines and would likely see jail time.
  • As You Know: The discussion between Fletcher's boss and the lawyer who won't take the case is there to explain the job of a lawyer to the audience.
  • Awkward Kiss: Fletcher is visibly confused as to what is going on when Miranda begins to make out with him.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: In its purest form. Fletcher and Audrey share a kiss just as Max blows out his birthday candles. They ask if Max wished for them to get back together, but it turns out that they were acting of their own free will.
  • Beneath the Mask: Being forced into Brutal Honesty makes Fletcher reveal his low opinion of his own job and co-workers, as well as his distaste for the Amoral part of being an Amoral Attorney.
  • Big "YES!": Fletcher belts one out after preventing the plane to Boston from taking off... followed immediately by a Big "NO!" as he crashes into a pile of traveling bags and cargo.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Reede, Reede, Reede. Story of his life; he finds ways to weasel out of his responsibilities and avoid punishment for his wrongdoings, and is so good at it he makes his living helping others do it.
    Greta: Mr. Reede, several years ago a friend of mine had a burglar on her roof — a burglar. He fell through the kitchen skylight, landed on a cutting board, on a butcher's knife, cutting his leg. The burglar sued my friend. He sued my friend and because of guys like you, he won. My friend had to pay the burglar $6,000. Is that justice?
    Fletcher: No! ...I'd have got him ten.
    • Remember, it takes Fletcher becoming physically unable to lie to understand why people would be angry at him for this kind of thing; it's his job, and the courts have found no problem with it before, so why does everyone hate him? Only when he sees an innocent man lose his children to an amoral gold-digger because of his efforts does he realize that he is using the letter of the law to subvert its spirit, and breaks down.
  • Brick Joke: When Greta bails Fletcher from jail, he ponders about starting his own firm and asks Greta if she wants to work for him. Greta, who had earlier quit over Fletcher stiffing her on a raise, quips that Fletcher couldn't afford her.
  • Broken Aesop: The moral is supposed to be that Fletcher's constant disregard for the truth was a bad thing that nearly caused him to lose his family and wasn't even necessary, since he still managed to win a massively important case without lying once. However, a number of instances show that Fletcher telling the truth was inconvenient for him but actively hurtful to other people, like a woman who was minding her own business in an elevator when a random guy starts talking about her breasts or the office assistant whose boss makes cruel remarks about her hairstyle and outfit. To its credit, it does at least have a scene where Fletcher explains to his son that there's a substantial difference between a good and bad lie, and a good and bad truth, which is only lost on the boy because of how much he's been repeatedly hurt by his father's lies.
  • Brutal Honesty: Fletcher is magically bound to tell the truth, and has very little control over his tact in telling it, making him this to his clients, to total strangers, and to himself.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Even when acting completely insane, Fletcher is still an exceptional attorney.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Because of Max's wish, not only is Fletcher incapable of lying, he is compelled to answer any question posed to him, usually to the best of his ability.
  • Cardboard Box of Unemployment: After asking Fletcher if he really didn't want to pay for her raise himself, the scene cuts to Greta packing all of her things into a cardboard box, having resigned in disgust.
  • Cassandra Truth
    Judge Stevens: I'll have to hear good cause, counsel. What's the problem?
    Fletcher: [strains] ...I! CAN'T! LIE!
    Judge: Commendable, Mr. Reede, but I'm still waiting to hear good cause; do you have one or not?
    Fletcher: Not!
  • Character Development: Fletcher realizes all his mistakes and becomes more sincere and careful about his relationship with his family (especially with his son) as the movie goes on.
  • Cheating with the Milkman: If you listen closely to the "sex tape," you can hear the man Samantha Cole is having sex with say "I have to go clean the pool."
  • Chewbacca Defense: In a deleted scene, Fletcher defends an incredibly guilty mugger, somehow spinning his robbing an old man at the ATM and beating up a cop who tried to arrest him into his trying to help the man pick up dropped coins, him being mistaken for a mugger, then attacked by the police. It's truly epic to watch. And it works.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Par for the course in a Jim Carrey film. Fletcher is melodramatic throughout, mostly in frustration with the truth curse and the effects it has on his life. The best example occurs when he attempts to beat the curse and will himself to lie:
    Fletcher: [holding a blue pen] Red. Red. Okay, now focus. The color of this pen is r-r-r-r-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh! [laughs to himself, frustrated] The color of this pen... is reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee— reeeeeeeeeeeeeee— [groans loudly before lifting pen dramatically into the air] THE COLOR OF THE PEN THAT I HOLD IN MY HAND IS R-R-R-R-R-R-R-ROOOOOOOOOOOOYAL BLUE! [collapses into his desk chair]
  • Comically Missing the Point: As a result of both the curse's literal-mindedness and Fletcher's established Amoral Attorney way of thinking. When a quitting Greta admonishes him for being the kind of lawyer that won a burglar $6,000 for injuring himself breaking into her friend's home, she asks Fletcher if that's justice, to which Fletcher emphatically says "No!", causing a surprised reaction in Greta wondering if Fletcher understood the error of his ways. Unfortunately, Fletcher follows up with a honest "I'd have got him ten [thousand]", sending Greta on her way in horror as Fletcher (truthfully) yells after her he misunderstood the question.
  • The Comically Serious: Judge Stevens. He constantly provides snarky comments (usually towards Fletcher) with a totally serious face, despite the fact that calling Fletcher's antics incredibly over-the-top would be an understatement.
  • Cool Old Lady: Greta, Fletcher's secretary.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: Mrs. Cole's children get this treatment from their caretaker when their mother's sex tape is played at the trial.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Fletcher occasionally reacts to things that frustrate him with dry witticisms, such as remarking that he's glad his gift to Max (a baseball glove, among other equipment) could bring Max and Jerry closer together, after Jerry sees the gift and offers to play catch with Max.
    • Audrey also has her moments; when Fletcher makes a joke about not provoking gang members, she quips that they'd never hurt him because "you're their lawyer", and when Fletcher thanks Audrey for paying his impound fee, saying she doesn't know how much it means to him, she drolly replies "I can; $1,654 and eleven cents."
    • Judge Stevens reacts to almost everything ridiculous that goes on in his courtroom with stoic sarcasm:
      Judge Stevens: And [how are you], Mr. Reede?
      Fletcher: [unable to lie] I'm a little upset about a bad sexual episode I had last night.
      Judge Stevens: ...Well, you're still young. It'll happen more and more. In the meantime, what do you say we get down to business?
  • Delayed Reaction: Fletcher has one after Audrey tells him about Max's wish, taking a few seconds to connect this with his sudden inability to lie.
  • Derailing Love Interests: Averted. Jerry is introduced as a genuinely nice and sweet man who treats Audrey and Max well, and although he doesn't care for Fletcher, he's civil to him. When he realizes Fletcher still loves his family and the lengths he'll go to in order to keep them, he lets them go and just lets Audrey know he's there if she changes her mind. The only thing you could really say about him is that he's a bit of a goofball, which Audrey admits he can be sometimes.
  • Desk Sweep of Rage: During the pen scene, the arm holding the pen starts acting by itself and swats the table's contents away.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Instigated by Fletcher himself, no less. His last-minute discovery that Mrs. Cole was underage when she got married, invalidating her prenup but leaving the common-law marriage intact ends up unduly costing an innocent man half his assets.note 
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: When Miranda asks Fletcher what he thought of the sex last night, he involuntarily blurts out exactly what he was thinking. Afterwards he can hardly believe he just did that: "... I've had better??"
  • Didn't Think This Through: When Greta is skeptical about Fletcher's story about his curse, Fletcher wants to prove it to her by having her ask him something he'd normally lie about. Without missing a beat, Greta inquires about a raise Fletcher flaked on, causing Fletcher to immediately regret it and tries to drown out the question of whether he simply didn't want to "pony up the dough" to no avail, causing Greta to quit on the spot.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: This is what leads to Fletcher getting slapped in the elevator.
    Fletcher: New in the building?
    Busty brunette: Yeah, I just moved in Monday.
    Fletcher: You like it so far?
    Brunette: Mmm-hmm. Everybody's been real nice.
    Fletcher: Well... that's because you have big jugs.
    Brunette: [gives Fletcher a look of outrage]
    Fletcher: I mean... your boobs are huge. I mean... I wanna squeeze 'em! [begins to hyperventilate] Ma-ma! [makes baby-like suckling sounds]
    [the sound of a slap is heard from outside the elevator, and the doors open to reveal Fletcher holding his face in pain]
  • Disposable Fiancé: Jerry.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: "Liar" and "lawyer" from Max's perspective, as shown in the exchange between Max and his teacher.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: The core of Fletcher Reede's case. His client signed a prenuptial agreement stating that if she cheated, she would be entitled to nothing when divorced by her (very wealthy) husband. The entire case is a joke as the woman is not only clearly guilty of infidelity but shows absolutely no remorse for her wrongdoing, and Fletcher only encourages her to take as much as she possibly can. He finds a loophole when he realizes that, among other things, his client lied about her age and was legally a minor at the time she signed the prenuptial agreement, thus invalidating it and the divorce defaults to the standard half-and-half split.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Fletcher and Audrey share a kiss in the final scene, at Max's sixth birthday party. They of course ask their son if he made another birthday wish to cause them to get back together - and he replies that he wished for Rollerblades, meaning Audrey and Fletcher's romance is rekindling on its own.
  • Doppelgänger Crossover: Near the end of when Fletcher is being wheeled off on a stretcher, Carrey can be seen in the background playing his Fire Marshall Bill character from In Living Color!.
  • "Double, Double" Title: The title is made by duplicating the word "Liar", as a reference to the main character, who was constantly lying, and also to "Liar, liar, pants on fire."
  • Double Entendre: Fletcher misses his son's birthday party because his boss, Miranda, is forcing him to have sex with her. When they're engaging in foreplay, Fletcher is on the phone with his ex-wife telling her that he can't make it. As Miranda straddles him and is taking his pants off, he claims to Audrey that the boss is "really riding" him.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Fletcher when trying to get home after learning Audrey is going to move. "I'm an inconsiderate prick!"
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Right when the case seems lost, Fletcher's client makes an offhand remark about her age. This turns the case upside down.
    • As well when Audrey tells Fletcher about what Max wished for the previous night.
    • Although it doesn't work, Fletcher gets the idea to make it look like he was attacked in the bathroom (so as to postpone the trial) after banging his head on the wall too hard.
    Fletcher: Owie! ... [turns to a mirror] OWIE!
    • A heartwarming one, as Fletcher is on the phone with Audrey, and states that he really does want to see Max today, then pauses and marvels to himself that he truly, honestly does want to see his son.
  • Evil Hand: In the Blue Pen scene (which is not red). Fletcher also invokes this with the "claw" routine he does to amuse his son.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: The whole film.
  • Exact Words: Fletcher can't use them, but he can be caught by anyone else using them. As it says elsewhere on this page, not only can he not lie, but he can't even evade the truth, deceive while remaining silent, or choose not to answer. Several times he gets into trouble because he is asked a question which he could have given a better answer to if the other person had just happened to phrase it differently. However, when one of Fletcher's clients robs an ATM and asks for legal advice, Fletcher does manage to give him the perfectly valid legal advice of "STOP BREAKING THE LAW, ASSHOLE!" When he beats himself up in the bathroom and is asked about who did it, Fletcher's means of describing himself so as to not reveal himself is not deceitful either as his trauma from circumstances legit causes himself to separate the incident from his own sane thinking and do so of himself in a way that while self-inflating doesn't make it easy for someone to figure out it was him—and not on purpose either.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Due to the nature of Max's wish, the entire movie (except the final scene) is set over three days, with Acts 2 and 3 set on the third day.
  • Face Fault: Only Jim Carrey can get away with doing one in live-action and make it look funny.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Mrs. Cole at least SEEMS in the early parts of the movie to be somewhat fettered with how Miranda and Fletcher mean to win her case. She flat-out brings up how none of their arguments are true, talks about how good a father Mr. Cole is, and reiterates the extreme number of times she had sex with the other guy after Fletcher mistakenly assumes it was only once. After Fletcher convinces her that she's a victim, over the course of the movie, she gets markedly more shrewish and outright hostile near the end until she's treating her children like objects and telling Mr. Cole to get to writing checks after Fletcher wins the case.
  • False Reassurance: Fletcher pulls this off in order to get an extension on the trial without lying. He beats himself up in the bathroom, stumbles into the court and truthfully describes his attacker (himself).
    Judge: Who did this?
    Fletcher: A madman, your honor! A desperate fool at the end of his pitiful rope!
    Judge: What did he look like?
    Fletcher: About 6'2'', 180 pounds, big teeth, kinda gangly.
  • First Father Wins: In the end, Fletcher gets his family back together.
  • Flipping the Bird: "Here's your raise!"
  • Foreshadowing: Fletcher, in his cursed state, tells the bum outside the courtroom that he won't give him change because a) it'll be blown on booze and b) Fletcher's cheap. We learn how truthful Fletcher is about the latter, when he's forced to confess to Greta he didn't give her a raise simply because he was too cheap to do so, causing her to quit.
  • Freudian Slippery Slope:
    Woman: Everybody's been real nice.
    Fletcher: Well, that's because you have big jugs! I mean...your boobs are huge! I mean, I want to squeeze them.....mama! (puckers up and starts making sucking sounds)
    (A big SMACK is heard and Fletcher exits the elevator, holding his face in pain)
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Fletcher's current case isn't one (although it is fraudulent), but he isn't against taking cases like this:
    Greta: Mr. Reede, several years ago a friend of mine had a burglar on her roof, a burglar. He fell through the kitchen skylight, landed on a cutting board, on a butcher's knife, cutting his leg. The burglar sued my friend, he sued my friend. And because of men like you, he won. My friend had to pay the burglar $6,000. Is that justice?
    Fletcher: No! [Beat] I'd have got him ten.
  • Funny Background Event: When Max, Audrey, and Jerry walk past some firemen, Jim Carrey can be seen in the background dressed as Fire Marshall Bill from In Living Color!.
  • Gasshole: "It was me!" as Fletcher retreats from an elevator whose other passengers are holding their noses and looking daggers at him.
  • Geas: The main character is placed under a 24 hour geas that makes it so he Cannot Tell a Lie. If he tries to say a lie, it comes out as gibberish. If he tries to write a lie, he will write the truth. He is even unable to ask a question if he knows the answer to the question is a lie.
  • Gold Digger: Even $11 million isn't enough for Mrs. Cole. At this point, though, it may be more about punishing Mr. Cole.
  • Handshake Refusal: Double Subversion. When Mr. Allan offers to make Fletcher a partner at his law firm, a stunned Fletcher accepts and shakes his hand briefly, but then jerks his hand away after his Heel Realization.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Lying is a necessary evil because Brutal Honesty can get you into trouble. Fletcher is forced to be truthful to everyone for just 24 hours, and it almost ruins his life as he tells friends and co-workers what he really thinks of them, gets into confrontations with strangers, and can't even hold a normal conversation with people without blurting out something offensive. As Fletcher puts to Max as one example, when Audrey was pregnant, she asked Fletcher if she looked fat; he said no, because saying yes would have hurt her feelings. But this is only the tip of the iceberg given everything else Fletcher has been through and all the misfortunes his honesty brings upon him in just one day.
    Fletcher: Max, no one can survive in the adult world if they have to stick to the truth. I could lose my case, I could lose my promotion, I could even lose my job.
  • Headdesk: Fletcher does this in court, getting a piece of paper stuck to his forehead.
  • Heel Realization: Fletcher has two of them:
    • "Lemme tell you somethin'! I'm a bad father! ... I mean... I'm a bad father..."
    • The second regards his professional one when he wins the case for Mrs. Cole and realizes how horrible she truly is when she won't even let her ex-husband say goodbye to their kids. Needless to say, he's rather horrified by his actions. Also, the people he was sucking up to make partners only saw the kids as legal leverage leaves him downright disgusted. At the beginning, she agreed to sharing custody with the father, saying he's a good father. Aside from her infidelity, she seems to be much more pleasant at the beginning, and Fletcher realizes the much more unpleasant Mrs. Cole at the end was at least partially his fault.
  • Hero Antagonist: Dana Appleton and her legal team representing Mr. Cole.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: It's a Jim Carrey movie. What else would you expect?
    • "Mrs Cole! .... A goose!"
      Carrey: 105 pounds! Yeah... in your BRA!
      Kurtz: Your Honor, I object!
      Carrey: You would!
      Kurtz: Overactor!
      Carrey: JEZEB— [begins laughing uproariously as everyone else cracks up and can't continue] THEY'RE ON TO ME!!!
      Kurtz: [still laughing] I'm sorry, he [pointing to director Tom Shadyac] made me do it!
    • Everything with the flip-top water pitcher, from pouring a cup and acting as if he were taking a leak, to making it talk.
      Carrey: It's working! I feel sorry for them already!
      Carrey: [water pitcher voice] For will pay...a terrible price!
  • Hollywood Law:
    • After Samantha Cole leaves Miranda's office following her introduction to Fletcher, Miranda tells Fletcher that Samantha's case is worth a lot of money to the firm, hinting that the firm is being paid a contingency fee since it's later revealed that a settlement offer has been made and refused, whereas if the firm were accepting a flat fee, the amount of Samantha's settlement would be irrelevant, and there would be no need to bring Fletcher in to replace the attorney who refused unethical behavior earlier in the movie. Attorneys are barred from accepting divorce cases on a contingency basis, unless it's a suit to recover past-due alimony or child support.
    • Contracts with a minor are considered voidable, not void ab initio. A minor who enters into a contract can choose to void it, but once they turn 18, they only have a limited window in which to declare the intention to void the contract. This window is usually six months — for marriage in California, it's two years. Past this window, the contract is considered ratified and must be executed. Given Samantha Cole's age at the time of the divorce hearing, both her marriage and the prenup should have been considered ratified. However, even if the marriage were valid but the prenup weren't, her husband clearly states that he "didn't know she was a minor!" At this point, he could probably get an annulment on the grounds of fraud, reverting Samantha to status quo ante matrimonium - i.e., legally in possession of none of his wealth.
    • Further to the above, the judge would not just stop the trial and render a verdict midway through. It would have continued until both sides had presented all their evidence, called all their witnesses, etc., and made their closing arguments.
    • One scene is premised on the idea that the judge can't stop Fletcher from badgering a witness because "it's his witness." A real-life judge would probably put a stop to that and give the lawyer a dressing down for it.
    • Fletcher's secretary claims someone broke into her friend's house, fell and injured himself in her kitchen and sued her with the help of a lawyer like Fletcher. Fletcher then claims he could have gotten him more. Such a suit is legally impossible, even in California — an intruder illegally entering a dwelling cannot sue for injuries caused by breaking and entering. Detailed explanation here.
    • Samantha's husband's lawyer presents a tape recording to be used against her in court. Tape recordings are not admissible as evidence without foundation in a court of law, which isn't given even though the content of the tape is irrelevant in her case. Additionally, California's strong laws on electronic surveillance forbid this except by two-party consent (which obviously did not occur here). The private investigator might also be in trouble here for invasion of privacy.
    • Many courthouses do not allow cell phones at all. Even those who do don't allow them in the courtroom.
    • Like most courtroom scenes, the film shows lawyers entering the "well" of the court (i.e. the area between the tables and the judge's bench), in a serious breach of courtroom etiquette. They aren't allowed to do this without the judge's permission, and this doesn't happen except to have a sidebar with him. When questioning witnesses, they stand at the podium.
    • In the analysis of an actual lawyer (Part 2), while there are accurate moments (such as when Fletcher notes that suing the impound lot for scratching his car wouldn't be worth it), the fact that Fletcher used to defend criminals and accepts a divorce case is an unusual change, Fletcher could not yell "Settle!" before talking to his client first, and a throwaway line regarding filing would be enough for disbarment (respecting the court clerk's deadlines is Serious Business!).
    • After the judge turns down Fletcher's request for a continuance, it's revealed that Richard has offered 10% of his estate to settle the case without going to trial, with Fletcher's reaction making it clear that no-one told him about this. At this point, Fletcher would have been perfectly in his rights to make another request for a continuance in order to try to conduct further negotiations over a possible settlement, and the judge would more than likely have granted it (though Samantha could potentially have over-ruled Fletcher if she was really stubborn).
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms:
    Fletcher: You slammed her! You dunked her doughnut! You gave her dog a Snausage! YOU STUFFED HER LIKE A THANKSGIVING TURKEY! [makes gobbling noises]
  • Ignoring by Singing: Fletcher knows he is cursed to speak the truth when answering a question, but not if he can't hear the question!
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Mrs Cole, revealed by her "sex tape".
  • Inflationary Dialogue: During the final stages of the trial:
    Fletcher: Thank you. Now let's see, weight 105? Yeah, in your bra.
    Samantha: 118.
    [Fletcher skeptically waits]
    Samantha: All right, fine, I'm 127.
  • Informed Flaw: While roasting the committee, Fletcher tells one man that his hairpiece "looks like something that was killed crossing the highway. I don't know whether to comb it or scrape it off with a shovel and bury it in lime!" It's actually quite passable.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: During the trial, as an audio recording of Samantha Cole having sex is being played for the court, in an attempt to prove her infidelity to her husband:
    Fletcher: Your Honor! How can it be proven that the male voice on that tape is not Mr. Cole himself?!
    Samantha: [on the tape] You're such a better lover than my husband!
    Fletcher: [makes a "You've got to be kidding me" face]
  • Insult Backfire:
    • Fletcher hurls a metric ton of verbal abuse at his boss, who finds it hilarious. He then goes all the way and insults everyone in the room, who all laugh at his insults, thinking it's a roast.
    • It does backfire for Miranda, however. She was out for revenge after Fletcher told her, "I've had better." When she realized he was incapable of lying, she throws him in front of the committee in hopes that his Brutal Honesty would get him fired. Instead, he gets wound up insulting the committee, calls her a slut, and laughs in her face with absolutely no consequences!
  • Insult to Injury: A passerby giving Fletcher money as he sags despondently on the courthouse steps following his self-inflicted beatdown.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When an attendant asks Audrey what she'd like to drink, she replies that she'll take anything with alcohol.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Jerry tells Audrey and Max they don't have to move to Boston with him once Fletcher makes amends with Max. While he tells Audrey she's welcome in Boston if she changes her mind, he's sincerely satisfied that Max "has his father back.".
  • Jaw Drop: Fletcher when Greta flips him the bird on her way out.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Mrs. Cole has cheated on her husband several times, it's hinted that she's not completely sure both her children are her husband's, and after Fletcher convinces her she's the victim, she becomes a complete Jerkass who uses her children for emotional gain in court. And thanks to a technicality no one saw coming, she wins the case and gets the standard divorce settlement of half her husband's assets, over 10 million dollars, and decides to sue for sole custody of the kids to get even more money in child support and deny her husband the right to them. Her getting away with all this is actually a major plot point, when Fletcher realizes it's his fault she was able to do all this and succeed.
    • The impound lot attendant. When Fletcher rants that he won't do anything about the scratch on his car, which the attendant dismissively said was already there, because even if he sues the impound company will ignore the court's ruling, the attendant just replies matter-of-factly "You've been here before, haven't you?" indicating that he knows this is the company's modus operandi and has no problem with it.
  • Kick the Dog: After the judge rules in Samantha Cole's favor and grants her 11 million dollars, she then declares that she isn't going to adhere to their original deal to share custody, and instead plans to contest custody to get another $10,000 from him. She specifically says she's doing this just to hit him where it hurts.
  • Kicking My Own Butt: Fletcher beats himself up in the bathroom in a last-ditch effort to get the court case postponed. He lampshades it when someone walks in on him doing the act.
    Man: [walks into the bathroom and sees Fletcher inflicting unholy bodily harm onto himself] ... what are you doing?
    Fletcher: I'm kicking my ass; do ya mind?!
    [the man backs away and flees in confused horror]
  • Large Ham: Jim Carrey, of course. The outtakes even have this exchange:
    Swoosie Kurtz: Your Honor, I object!
    Carrey: You would!
    Kurtz: Overactor!
    Carrey: JE-ZE-BEL!!!
    • Followed by Kurtz pointing to someone off-camera (Tom Shadyac, the director), saying he put her up to it, and Carrey hugs her, mugging hammily, "Oh no! They're on to me!"
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Fletcher refers to Tina Turner's career as an example of how females should stand up for themselves, referencing Tina Turner's relationship with Ike Turner, and Tina Turner's cover of Proud Mary, then finishes with a reference to the sci-fi film Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, featuring both Tina Turner as the antagonist Aunty Entity, and the song "We Don't Need Another Hero," sung by Tina Turner.
  • List of Transgressions: When Fletcher is stopped after reckless driving...
    Officer: You know why I pulled you over?
    Fletcher: Depends on how long you were following me! [winces]
    Officer: Why don't we just take it from the top?
    Fletcher: [sighs] Here goes...I sped, I followed too closely, I ran a stop sign, I almost hit a Chevy, I sped some more, I failed to yield at a crosswalk, I changed lanes at the intersection, I changed lanes without signaling while running a red light and speeding!
    Officer: Is that all?
    Fletcher: [groaning] No... [gestures with his eyes; when the cop doesn't get it, says] I have unpaid parking tickets. [opens his glove compartment and there are so many tickets they spill out; whimpers] Be gentle.
  • Literal-Minded: Max's wish forces Fletcher to either be literal about almost everything, or specify that he's not being literal. For example, Fletcher calls his boss "a worthless, steaming pile of cow dung" and has to add on the tag "figuratively speaking," and when a homeless man asks Fletcher if he can spare some change, Fletcher has to answer "Yes, I could." When the homeless man asks if he will spare some, Fletcher is able to say no.
  • Loophole Abuse: The film plays with this back and forth. On the one hand, sometimes Fletcher is able to tell the truth in a roundabout way; when he beats himself up and the Judge asks who did it, Fletcher gives a physical description of himself rather than just say he did it himself. He's also able to say things that may or may not be true but he believes them to be true, such as when he tells Judge Stevens that he's heard about potential health risks associated with not being allowed to go to the bathroom. On the other hand, when the time comes for Fletcher and Mr. Falk to go over the testimony they've rehearsed, Fletcher finds himself unable to ask the questions because he knows Falk will answer with a lie. During the proceedings Fletcher is able to get out the question out a couple of times, but is unable to stop himself from immediately objecting to himself before Falk can answer. Fletcher is also compelled to give direct answers to questions and commands and cannot refuse. Most of these bends in the "rules" of Max's wish can be chalked up to Rule of Funny.
  • Madness Mantra: After attempting, in private, to lie about the color of a pen, his secretary walks in to find him completely unraveled, muttering "The pen is blue. The pen is blue! THE GODDAMN PEN IS BLUE!"
  • Magical Realism: How the birthday wish came true is never explained. It seems it just sometimes happens in the movie's world.
    Fletcher: This is one of those 24-hour curses.
    Greta: Yeah, those've been going around.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The rule of the truth curse is that Fletcher is incapable of any direct or indirect lie, no matter how big or small. It is a little shaky on how he can use Metaphorically True, in some cases he cannot withhold information as his silence would be a lie in and of itself (such as the elevator scene; "It was me!") and even could not ask a rhetorical question knowing the answer to be a lie, but he was nearly able to stall the divorce proceedings via subtle deception (describing his attacker with his same physical characteristics and psychological profile, leaving out that he beat himself up). Of course, some of this could be explained in that Fletcher is naturally a Motor Mouth and Large Ham, making it less that he can't play with the truth and more that he can't keep a straight face long enough before blurting something out, which has to be the truth.
  • Make a Wish: The film's Applied Phlebotinum.
  • Male Gaze: Fletcher in the elevator scene with his busty new neighbor.
  • Married to the Job: The premise of the story.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Averted with the main story, which is clearly some sort of magic, but in the epilogue Audrey and Fletcher kiss at Max's next birthday, implying that they're going to get back together. After what happened the last time he had a birthday, they're savvy enough to immediately ask if he wished for them to get back together. He says he wished for Rollerblades, but he's not under any magical compulsion to tell the truth so this may or may not be Blatant Lies.
    • It's also possible that he did wish for his parents to fall in love again, but the wish had no actual effect, either because it was already happening or because It Only Works Once.
  • Meaningful Name: "Fletcher Reede". A fletcher is an arrowsmith, while a reed of course, is the wetland plant. The two play into Fletcher being a crooked lawyer as opposed to a "straight arrow".
  • Motor Mouth: See Long List.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Fletcher has two. One when he realizes how he's functionally ruined his relationship with his son, and a second when he realizes that his lies from the previous day have turned Mrs. Cole into a petty, vengeful ex-wife.
  • Necktie Leash: Miranda grabs and pulls Fletcher by the tie, bringing his lips to hers.
  • Nice Guys Finish Last: Jerry, although Fletcher is somewhat redeemed in Audrey's eyes via his efforts to be a better father.
  • No Indoor Voice: Pretty much any of Fletcher's pronouncements after the realization sets in, but maybe most famously: STOP BREAKIN' THE LAW, ASSHOOOOOLE!
  • Off on a Technicality: How Fletcher wins the trial. He even cites it.
  • Organ Autonomy: THE CLAW!
  • Penultimate Outburst: After a civil trial that goes disastrously wrong because he can't tell a lie, Fletcher Reed realizes he has an out through the truth. An instant before the judge issues a ruling, Reed, amends from "I have no further witnesses" to "I call [my client] to the stand". The resulting hubbub in the courtroom is not ended by the judge's several cries for order; Reed manages to quiet them with an irritated "Knock it off!" The judge is not impressed, instructs Reed to sit down, and then:
    Judge Stevens: Mr. Reed, it is out of sheer morbid curiosity I'm allowing this... freak show to continue.
  • Pet the Dog: Audrey is understandably pissed at Fletcher for weaseling her into paying to get his car out of impound, but the moment he has his Heel Realization, she can't stay mad and consoles him with the knowledge that he's not a bad father when he's there with her and Max.
  • The Pollyanna: Jerry, whose constant chipper demeanor irritates Fletcher. Even Audrey concedes that Jerry is, as Fletcher says, "magoo" (meaning excessively cheerful). Jerry even firmly stays in the trope when willingly giving up Audrey and Max so they can stay close to Fletcher, that even with the gravity of the decision, he's happy that Max is happy.
  • Prenup Blowup: The main case involves a Gold Digger attempting to get half of her husband's assets, despite the fact that the prenup he had her sign before marriage stipulated that, if she was unfaithful, she gets nothing. The husband's case seems ironclad, and there is even an audio recording of the wife having sex with her lover. The protagonist is an Amoral Attorney representing her who is unable to lie for one day (thanks to a wish made by his son) and, thus, can't win the case in his normal manner (he can't even ask a question that he knows will be answered by a lie). Interestingly, the husband was willing to settle for a decent sum of money, despite the prenup in order to spare their children the unfortunate experience, but the wife wanted more. The protagonist wins the case by sheer chance, when he discovers that the wife was underage when she got married but lied about it. Thus, the prenup is invalid, and the wife is granted half of the assets. Then the protagonist realizes the mistake he made when he sees the wife trying to continue the battle by demanding full custody of the kids, despite the fact that she doesn't care about them, while her ex-husband is a loving father, all to get extra money from child support payments.
    • At the beginning, it is the protagonist who convinces the wife to fight the prenup in court, claiming that her husband was the one who drove her into the arms of another man. The film makes it pretty clear, though, that nothing of the sort happened.
  • Principles Zealot: Essentially, this is the result of the wish—Fletcher is an unwilling zealot, admittedly, but his behavior matches a classic comedic Principles Zealot pretty closely.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Mr. Allen's board members out themselves as this when Fletcher insults Allen to his face. It's only when Mr. Allen starts laughing that they laugh along, despite staying noticeably silent while they awaited his reaction.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I! CAN'T! LIE!"
  • Race for Your Love: Interesting version - it's a father's love for his son that's being raced for here.
  • Really Gets Around:
    Fletcher: After all that, your husband wants to deny you a fair and equitable share of the marital assets based on one single act of indiscretion.
    Mrs. Cole: Seven.
    Fletcher: Pardon me?
    Mrs. Cole: Seven single acts of indiscretion.
  • Really 17 Years Old: Fletcher discovers that Mrs. Cole lied about her age when she got married, rendering the prenuptial and the original marriage contract void, but leaving her still entitled to half her (ex)husband's wealth as they had lived together long enough to be considered common-law married anyways.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Fletcher's immediate boss learns of his current problem and takes him to the firm's board meeting where he regretfully tells everyone the honest truth of what he thinks of them. They end up in stitches laughing, loving the no-holds barred roasting.
  • Required Secondary Powers: In a way, and for plot purposes. Not only does he have a truth-telling "superpower", but he also seems to be incapable of holding back the truth that is on his mind and spits it right out. For instance when he's pulled over by the police Fletcher seems incapable of reserving his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent, or simply say "yes" when asked if he knows why he was pulled over. (See "Long List" above for a quote from the scene). If he were able to at least keep his mouth shut when the truth wouldn't do him any favors, the movie would be very different.
    • He also learns, to his horror, that he can't ask witnesses in court rehearsed questions if he knows they're going to lie. And he demonstrates a zig-zagging inability not to tell the direct truth — he never tells the judge he's ill but then talks as if he is, but when asked if he can proceed with the trial after his "mugging", he says yes instead of simply stating he'd prefer not to.
  • The Rival: There's nothing really wrong with Jerry, other than being a bit milquetoast. In fact, even this is more of an Informed Flaw. Plenty of children would be doing very well indeed to have a father like him.
  • The Roast: Fletcher ends up doing this to a room full of executives once his boss finds his insults hilarious.
  • Sarcastic Confession: When forced to tell the senior partners what he really thinks of them, he saves himself from near-certain firing when the chairman thinks he's being roasted and starts laughing.
  • Sex at Work: Fletcher misses his son's birthday when he’s forced to have sex with his boss in her office.
  • Sexophone: Occurs when Fletcher's busty new neighbor is introduced.
  • Shockingly Expensive Bill: Fletcher's unpaid parking tickets come to $1654.11.
  • Shout-Out: Fletcher references Ike and Tina Turner's relationship, Tina Turner's cover of Proud Mary, and Tina Turner's song and role in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Played for Laughs since Fletcher does this to himself!
    Fletcher: What is happening to me?! [suddenly monotone] I'm getting what I deserve. I'm reaping what I sow, I—[claps both hands heavily over his mouth, while involuntarily ranting]
  • Sleeping Their Way to the Top: Fletcher is forced to sleep with Miranda, his (female, good-looking) immediate boss in the hopes that it'll help further his career to finally make partner. His son's birthday wish takes effect at exactly the wrong time...
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Fletcher is sleeping with his boss — until the wish comes into effect and he makes a truthful (and uncomplimentary) comment about the sex they just had.
  • Smooch of Victory: Samantha kisses Fletcher in the courtroom after they win the case.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Fletcher's "wake up sisters" speech references Ike and Tina Turner's relationship, Tina Turner's cover of Proud Mary, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which features both Tina Turner in the role of Auntie Entity, and the song "We Don't Need Another Hero," sung by Tina Turner.
  • Special Occasions Are Magic: On his 5th birthday, Max wishes that his dad couldn't lie. His wish comes true, which the judge notes can happen due to "24-hour curses". At the end of his movie, his parents fear it will happen again when he turns six, implying that this always happens on Max's birthdays.
  • Spit Take: Reede does an over-the-top one right before his That Was Objectionable moment.
  • Stealth Insult: See Sarcastic Confession.
  • Taking the Kids: Two parallel cases - Fletcher's client insists on taking the kids from their loving father not because she cares about them but because she can use them to milk him for child support payments. Meanwhile, Fletcher is in danger of losing his own son when Audrey moves to Boston.
  • Tension-Cutting Laughter: Provided by Fletcher's boss who misinterprets Fletcher's Brutal Honesty as a roast.
  • That Was Objectionable: Possibly the most honest example in fiction.
    Fletcher: Your honor, I object!
    Judge: And why is that, Mr. Reede?
    Fletcher: Because it's devastating to my case!
    Judge: Overruled.
    Fletcher: Good call!
  • Time Skip: The final scene takes place one year later, where Audrey and Fletcher romantically pair up again and repair the family unit for good.
  • Too Much Information: When the judge asks Fletcher how he's doing this morning, Fletcher replies with, "I'm a little upset about a bad sexual episode last night."
    Judge: Well, you're still young. It'll happen more and more. In the meantime, what do you say we get down to business?
    • One of the reasons Fletcher doesn't want to talk to his mother on the phone:
    Fletcher: [on phone] Hello? Mom! [panicking] Hi! [...] I wasn't really on vacation. [...] Because I didn't want to talk to you! [...] Because you insist on talking about Dad's bowel movements: Size, color, frequency!
  • The Unfair Sex: Parodied. Jennifer Tilly's character Really Gets Around, but Fletcher convinces her that she was "driven into the arms of another man." Meanwhile, he's pretty much lost his son as a result of his own infidelity.
    Audrey: You forget that when we were married, I wasn't having sex nearly as often as you were.
  • Villain Has a Point: In an interesting example, Fletcher realizes that he's the villain at the end, when he wins millions for his client through Loophole Abuse. Putting aside the fact that this wouldn't work in real life (see Hollywood Law, above), the fact remains this was a case of a rich, older guy marrying a 17-year-old girl (thinking she was 18). She was too young to make an informed decision about either marriage or a pre-nup, so it's hard to feel especially bad for the guy.
  • Volleying Insults: The scene in the Large Ham quote.
  • Wham Line: Fletcher manages the rare feat of shocking himself with his own wham line, courtesy of the truth-telling curse.
    Fletcher: [angry] Audrey, listen to me — I'm a bad father! I... I mean... [horrified] I'm a bad father...
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The whole movie is one long look at this trope, as the truth curse essentially begins breaking down Fletcher's life, which up to this point has been built on lying so much that even he himself is surprised when he says things that are true ("How about that, I really do..."). By the end of the movie, Fletcher begins to grow out of this state as a result of seeing just how much damage has been done to his life through compulsive lying.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Max is constantly upset at how Fletcher is always late to meet him. When he doesn't cancel things at the last minute.
  • Women's Mysteries: Inverted - Fletcher uses men's mysteries to get a recess in the court, citing a link between a full bladder and male prostate issues and counting on the judge not knowing whether this is medically accurate or not. Played for Laughs when the judge asks if that's true (to which a bewildered - and still forced to tell the truth - Fletcher responds, "It has to be!").
    • Cue multiple men, including the judge, leaving for the toilet.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Fletcher beats the ever-living crap out of himself in the bathroom so that the court session could be postponed. When asked who did it, he describes the assailant-himself-as "A madman, your honor! A desperate fool on the end of his pitiful rope!" Still, Fletcher's scheme fails when he's forced to admit that he still feels physically able to continue with the case.
    Fletcher: About 6'2, 180 pounds, big teeth, kinda gangly. [closes mouth to cover teeth]


I'm kicking my ass! D'ya mind?

In a desperate, last-ditch attempt to get an extension on a case that could make or break his career, Fletcher beats himself up in the men's room.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / KickingMyOwnButt

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