Something About Mary
Something about Peter and Bobby Farrelly makes low-brow humor hilarious.
Thursday, July 23, 1998
When directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly titled their first film Dumb & Dumber it was as if they issued themselves a comic challenge: Always aim for the next level--downward. And so far, with both their second film, Kingpin, and their new film, There''s Something About Mary, they''ve measured up to the challenge. This, however, shouldn''t be misunderstood as meaning that Mary isn''t funny, frequently side-splittingly so.
The Farrelly brothers are specialists in lowbrow, bodily functions humor as well as defiant assailants of any subject matter that''s marked "Fragile: Politically Correct." Where they branch out in Mary is in their creation of sustained comic sequences--an advance over the strung-together assemblage of gags that propel the momentum of both Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin. The film''s much-described early sequence in which nerdy Ted (Ben Stiller) never makes it to the prom with dream girl Mary (Cameron Diaz) because of an excruciatingly catastrophic accident with his pants zipper, is destined to become a classic bit of film comedy. In its antic craziness as more and more characters barge into the scene, Mary is reminiscent of the crazed, hellzapoppin'' style of the Marx Brothers. More and more characters pop into the scene, the jokes fly ("Is it the frank or the beans?" Mary''s solicitous dad keeps asking), and the audience winces hysterically with laughter. And then, when you think it''s all gone just as far as it''s able, the sequence layers on a sight gag so audacious that you suddenly understand that you''re completely at the film''s mercy. Though this sequence is the instant classic, a few others nearly equal its antic mischief and sublime buildup. And, really, they''re much better left undescribed. Really.
At about two hours in length, however, Mary consists of more jokes than sustained sequences. A surprisingly large number of the laughs work, although, understandably, a good number of them also fall flat. You can bet that whenever the story slows down to advance the plot concerning its paper-thin characters, the film takes a noticeable dip. As the Mary at the center of it all, Diaz certainly exudes that irresistible "something" expressed in the title. In films such as My Best Friend''s Wedding and A Life Less Ordinary, Diaz has shown herself to be a good comic sport who is game for just about anything. Here, it''s no stretch to understand why, at the end of the movie, some half-dozen suitors have converged in her living room to throw themselves at her feet.
Stiller is a deadpan hoot, although Dillon''s scuzzball private dick is a bit too extreme for the circumstances. Able support work is provided by numerous players, among them Chris Elliott (who, regrettably has little more to do than be the butt of a skin-ailment joke); Lin Shaye (a Farrelly regular in her assigned role of wizened sexpot), and Lee Evans (the physical comedian who was so good in Funny Bones and Mouse Hunt and here milks his character''s crutches for every joke they''re worth).
Special note must be made of cult musician Jonathan Richman, the minimalist romantic troubadour who is used here with snare-drum sidekick Tommy Larkins as roving minstrels who pop up ( l Cat Ballou) in various scenes to provide running ironic commentaries--in verse. And speaking of songs, stick around for the closing credits during which the entire cast vamps to "Build Me Up, Buttercup."
The Farrellys won''t be winning any good taste awards in the near future (their next film, reportedly, centers around Siamese twins), but, my oh my, they are modern kingpins of comedy.