The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Movie Review | Christian Movie Reviews, Music, Books and Game Reviews for Teens

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Movie Review

Are you the sort of person that's always longing for approval?

Actor Steve Carell has a rare comic touch that can make people laugh without losing sight of the human being beneath the joke. It’s a skill that's put to good use in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone as he introduces one of Hollywood’s favourite themes: a high roller in need of a little humility.

Carell plays superstar magician Burt Wonderstone. He’s raked in millions on the Las Vegas strip with illusions as extravagant as his costumes. However, his life-long partnership with Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) is falling victim to his overgrown ego. Burt is pretentious, vain and unworried about remembering the name of his assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde). When street-savvy magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) starts eclipsing his career and ticket sales falter, Burt falls on hard times. He takes on the humiliating job of entertaining seniors in a retirement village and has a chance encounter with Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the illusionist who inspired him as a boy. Coming to terms with how much success has corrupted his character leads to some magical outcomes.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a ‘Prodigal Son’ story about how the longing for human approval can undermine and ruin a life. Burt transforms from the awkward target of schoolyard bullies into a Sunset Strip success but develops a laughable inability to appreciate others in the process.

Art reflecting reality

In a recent media conference, Carell and Carrey both admitted that the dangers of following popularity’s siren call were far from fictional. Carell says there’s nothing like fame to help you forget yourself and Burt “… loses his joy and starts to think different about himself and about the world”. He certainly enjoys the fruits of success but a joyless succession of one-night stands makes it clear he’s found no real contentment. In a similar vein, Carey shares that real life has taught him success has a built-in deficiency. For every high there is a corresponding low:

There’s just moments of your life where you go, "Wow, I can’t believe how insanely lucky I am", and then you can turn around and the next moment feel so completely caught up in your own wanting, and desiring, and needing and feel like somehow you’re missing something. It’s just higher the high, the lower the low.

What causes quarrels among you?

The perils of desire are not purely a worldly thing. They threaten every level of the Christian community as well. Carey’s picture is not that dissimilar from James’ description of the believer who puts pleasure over God:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God (James 4:1-2)

Pleasure is what a Christian finds when they take their eyes off themselves. James’ goal was to turn his reader’s gaze towards God and ultimately others. In the movie, Burt certainly gets as far as realizing he shouldn’t be the centre of attention:

Along the way, we forgot the most important thing: that Burt needs Anton and Anton needs Burt. Because that’s what a magical friendship is all about.

The final word

There's always something to learn from films like this and if you walk away thinking less about yourself and more about others, then that has to be a good thing. So, while many critics have given The Incredible Burt Wonderstone bad reviews, if you go in not expecting too much, you might just find it has something valuable to offer.

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