Comedians are the last movie stars who still regularly come up through live theater. This probably accounts for the much-commented-on aspects of their relationship to the audience: they're desperate for our love; they're equally desperate for our respect; and they hate our guts. Working in live comedy must be brutal, having to be funny to an empty house; playing over the random noises of an inattentive audience; keeping your routine going when the audience isn't laughing; dealing with hecklers. And yet the hostility that comics feel for the audience, the great stone from which they've had to wring water, doesn't distort their artistry as their need for love or respect tends to. Physical comedians work intuitively from universal feelings; they don't need much education or cultivation. As a result, they can go grossly wrong when they try to play directly for emotion or do "serious" pieces. They're working much closer to their instincts, and their professional experience, when they draw on their resentment and aggression.
Carrey was plainly looking for acting awards in The Truman Show (1998) and Man on the Moon (1999). The first gets by, to the extent it does, on its high concept, certainly not on Carrey's "soulful" yearning, while the second, ironically, recounts the mad put-on artist Andy Kaufman's life in a square A&E Biography mode, implausibly presenting him as an inspired innocent who merely channels his perverse charades. Both roles are soft-boiled eggs inside their shells. Bruce Almighty, by contrast, stems from Carrey's need to be loved and is at least preferable to the other two in showing you what makes him a star.
Carrey plays Bruce Logan, a TV newsman in Buffalo specializing in wacky human interest stories who longs for an anchor position. Bruce takes everything too hard, not just his career doldrums but the petty mishaps we all suffer through. When he sees a mute, homeless beggar on the street Bruce thinks he himself has it worse. He does take the trouble to scare off a gang of thugs attacking the beggar, once he feels it's safe to do so, but then overplays the heroic role, at which they turn their attention to him. Trouble seems to pile on top of Bruce, whose complaints to God become so obstreperous the Lord confers on Bruce His powers to see if he can do better.
The idea of a slapstick version of the Book of Job makes a lot of sense because "Why me?" is at the bottom of all slapstick. Of course, slapstick focuses on the physical world--stepping in a puddle, getting caught in traffic--but if you ratchet it up to "Why me, God?" you're still in the realm of slapstick: haplessness, frustration, impotence. Slapstick, however, stems from a universally translatable sense of being out of step with physical existence, whereas complaints about the Almighty stray into, shall we say, "tribal" feelings about the nature of existence that different groups have very definite and highly sensitive feelings about. The problem this leads to is that Hollywood entertainment always tries to anticipate a consensus opinion (and always has) and in order to come up with consensus on a religious subject it has to mash the subject into mush. There is no area of existence, not even family life, that Hollywood has treated with such consistent blandness, in both drama and comedy.