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Something about Mary will club you with tasteless humor; you'll still laugh.

By Joe Leydon

JULY 20, 1998:  Some movies exemplify bad taste. Others illustrate political incorrectness. And then there's Something About Mary, a rude and raunchy farce with something to offend everyone. Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the same brothers who gave us Kingpin and Dumb and Dumber, this is not a movie for people with faint hearts or refined tastes. But if you're in the right mood for its unfettered excess, it can make you laugh until you're thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

Working from an uneven and uninhibited screenplay they co-wrote with Ed Decter and John J. Strauss, the Farrelly boys intend Something About Mary as their twisted version of a classic romantic comedy. You know the routine: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. In this case, however, the formula is expanded to include, among other things, girl is stalked by an obsessive admirer, boy is mistaken for a serial killer, girl is wooed by an ingenious creep - and, most important, boy catches his private parts in his zipper.

The latter indignity is endured by Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) when, in the movie's opening minutes, his senior-prom dream date turns into a living nightmare. The poor geek earned the eager gratitude of Mary (Cameron Diaz), the most beautiful girl in school, when he defended her mentally-challenged brother from a big-mouth bully. (Yes, it's true: Something About Mary is the kind of movie that uses "retards" for cheap laughs, although most of those laughs come at the expense of supposedly "normal" folks.) Mary asked Ted to the prom, and he accepted. But during a brief bathroom break in her home, Ted - well, let's just say that, if you're a guy, you'll feel his pain, whether you want to or not. Instead of going to the prom, he winds up in the hospital.

Flash forward a dozen years, and we find Ted still living in his Rhode Island town, and still carrying a torch for Mary. He knows she moved away to Miami shortly after prom night, but he's always been too shy to contact her. At the urging of a friend, Ted hires Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), a singularly seedy detective, to discover whatever happened to his lost love. Bad news: Pat reports that Mary has become an overweight, wheelchair-bound mother of four illegitimate children. Worse news: Pat is lying through his teeth, because he wants Mary - who's bright, beautiful and tantalizingly available - for himself.

Something About Mary is blithely slapdash in its plotting, which is a polite way of saying that the Farrelly brothers aren't overly concerned about logic or consistency. Their chief concern is finding the shortest possible distance between one envelope-pushing gag to the next. Ted eventually makes his way to Miami - after a brief interlude in jail as a suspected murderer and/or sex criminal - and at least two other romantic rivals are tossed into the mix. One thing leads to another, but only because the moviemakers are always looking for the next available punchline.

Some of the movie is genuinely grotesque without the saving grace of being funny, and much of it is nothing more than filler between the jokes. Still, you can't deny that the Farrelly brothers are exuberantly fearless in their willingness to try anything, and risk everything, for the sake of a big laugh. Quite often - especially duirng a scene that has someone mistaking semen for hair gel - you may find yourself thinking, "No way! They're not going to do that!" Just as often, they actually do it. That's when the shock of their audacity is surpassed only by the roar of your guffaw.

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