There's Something About Mary

There's Something About Mary
Directors: Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly
Screenplay: Ed Decter & John J. Strauss and Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly
Stars: Cameron Diaz (Mary Jensen Matthews), Matt Dillon (Pat Healy), Ben Stiller (Ted Stroehmann), Lee Evans (Tucker), Chris Elliott (Tom Woogejovsky), Lin Shaye (Magda), Jeffrey Tambor (Sully), Markie Post (Mary's Mom), Keith David (Mary's Stepfather), W. Earl Brown (Warren Jensen)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1998
Country: USA
There are two possible responses to the Farrelly Brothers' new movie, "There's Something About Mary": either you will think it childish, stupid, juvenile, and sick, and walk out of the theater in the first half hour; or you will think it childish, stupid, juvenile, and sick, and walk out of the theater after the movie is over with tears in your eyes from laughing so hard.

Since 1994's "Dumb and Dumber," The Farrelly Brothers (Peter and Bobby) have been making gross-out humor their stock-in-trade. "Dumb and Dumber" had its funny/sick moments, including the selling of a dead parakeet to a blind boy, and the sight of frozen snot on the upper lips of stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. The Farrellys' next movie, "Kingpin" (1996), upped the gross ante, adding (among other things) the sight of Woody Harrelson taking a big swig from a bucket filled with a certain body fluid obtained by accidentally "milking" a bull.

Now, the Farrelly Brothers give us their grossest and most twisted movie to date, which also happens to be their best. The ironic thing about "Mary" is the fact that, underneath its adolescent male vulgarity, it's a sort of sweet movie. Irreverent and demented, but sweet. Beneath their "Ha, I made you look at my penis" veneer, it looks like the Farrelly Brothers might have a soft spot. (Although they rarely miss an opportunity to mock romantic movie conventions, especially with a schmaltzy pair of singers who show up out of nowhere every time there's an "emotional" scene.)

Ben Stiller stars as Ted Stroehmann, a circa-1985 high school geek with an awful haircut and a mouth full of metal. He immediately falls in love with the most beautiful girl in his small town Rhode Island school, an immediately likable sweetheart named Mary (Cameron Diaz). Ted actually gets a chance with Mary when he saves Mary's retarded brother, Warren (W. Earl Brown), from being beaten up by a sadistic bully. Mary asks Ted to the prom, but on the big night, Ted has a slight accident when trying to zip up the fly on his tuxedo a little too fast. Instead of spending his dream night with Mary, he ends up in the hospital.

Fast forward thirteen years, and Ted is still living in Rhode Island and still thinking about his missed opportunity; there is definitely something about Mary that he can't get out of his mind. "Crushes don't last thirteen years," he says. At the behest of his best friend, Tom (Chris Elliott), Ted hires Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), a sleazy but effective private detective (is there any other kind?) who wears loud Hawaiian shirts, sports a cheesy-thin mustache, and has scruples about as low as the Farrelly Brothers' sense of humor. Pat finds Mary living in Florida, still a "fox" and working as a surgeon. But that something about Mary grabs hold of Pat as well, and he ends up lying to Ted about her condition (he tells her she's fat, in a wheelchair, and raising four kids from three different guys) so he can move to Florida and have her for himself.

By the end of the movie, there will be no less than five guys in Mary's apartment, all vying for her love and affection, and it's not hard to see why. As played by the always luminous Cameron Diaz, Mary is the dream girl of every guy, especially high school geeks like Ted: she's beautiful and nice and successful. The movie goes over and above the call of duty to make sure we realize just how decent a human being Mary is, from her high school affinity for guys with braces, to her penchant for buying lunch for every patient at Warren's care facility.

The same goes for Stiller's character, who is portrayed as the decent Everyman, the kind of guy who should get ahead in life, but is just too nice and forgiving to really make it in the harsh world. The old saying goes that nice guys finished last, and the Farrellys are determined to prove it wrong. However, this is a Farrelly Brothers movie, so a little niceness goes a long way. Although "There's Something About Mary" is a love story, much of the two-hour running time is given over to the Farrellys' uniquely sick sense of fun.

There are endless politically incorrect jokes, including those aimed at the mentally handicapped and homosexual men who congregate at highway rest stops. The Farrelly Brothers' also indulge their particular penchant for jokes involving human anatomy and body fluids: they love big, white-head zits, nervous rashes, goofy false teeth, and the wrinkled, sun-baked leather skin of Mary's elderly neighbor, Magda (Lin Shaye), who is unkind enough to give the movie its one nude scene when we're expecting to see Diaz. Scenes that other directors would merely imply, the Farrellys come right out and show. Not only do they actually give a close-up of Ted's zipper problem on prom night, but they include one absolutely hilarious masturbation joke that has to be some kind of non-porn cinematic first.

Basically, you'll either love "There's Something About Mary" or you'll hate it. I loved it, not only because it was drop-dead hilarious, but because the Farrelly Brothers did something they've never quite done before: they created truly likable characters. "Dumb and Dumber" was funny because of the idiocy of its characters, and although "Kingpin" managed to bring some human qualities to its characters, it was still their crassness or naive affability that predominated.

"Mary," on the other hand, is funny because its two central characters, Mary and Ted, are generally likable people caught in ... well, extraordinary situations. How rare is it to see a movie with jokes involving the drugging and electrocution of a Benji dog, and still find yourself cheering for the guy and girl to get together in the end?

Copyright © 1998 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3.5)

James Kendrick

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