Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.
Release Date: July 15th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly Actors: Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Lee Evans, Chris Elliott, Lin Shaye, Jeffrey Tambor, Keith David, Sarah Silverman, Khandi Alexander, Marnie Alexenburg, Richard Tyson
he Farrelly Brothers have been hit-or-miss in recent years, but their follow-up to “Dumb and Dumber” and “Kingpin” is a genuinely hilarious riot (stimulated in part by a last ditch attempt that might have been the directors’ final shot at Hollywood filmmaking had “There’s Something About Mary” not become a sleeper hit of 1998). A portion of it is the strong cast led by the continually likeable Ben Stiller (a far superior comedic counterpart to the hopelessly juvenile Adam Sandler). And part of it is the extreme lengths it will go for gross-out gags or bodily fluid jokes that had previously never before been seen (pushing the boundaries of its R rating). It also contains a series of outrageous “worst nightmare” situations for high-schoolers, routinely witty dialogue, and a sensitive lead character who makes all the wrong decisions before ending up as Mr. Right.
In Rhode Island, Ted (Ben Stiller) has his perfect prom experience ruined by a faulty zipper and a few misunderstandings, despite landing the irresistible Mary (Cameron Diaz) as his date. Thirteen years later, he still wonders what happened to his young crush. Taking the advice of his best friend Dom (Chris Elliott), he hires sleazy private detective Patrick Healy (Matt Dillon) to look her up. Healy tracks her whereabouts to Miami, Florida, where he learns she’s still a stone cold fox – and now an orthopedic surgeon, single, and hanging around with a leather-faced old lady neighbor named Magda (Lin Shaye).
Healy overhears a conversation about Mary’s ideal man (an architect, a traveler, an owner of property in Nepal, and someone sympathetic to the mentally handicapped), and puts on a charade to be the unequaled match. His efforts are thwarted by Ted, who is insistent on reuniting with his old flame (despite Healy’s insistence that her looks have drastically deteriorated), as well as a few other unexpected love interests, turning the courting game into quite the underhanded competition. As each contender tries to woo the enchanting woman – resorting to sneaky tactics to undermine one another – it’s evident that there’s not enough Mary to go around.
“There’s Something About Mary” blends ludicrous fantasy, uncomfortable reality, cartoonish slapstick, and a melting pot conclusion that magically straightens out the mess of combating characters – all with romance and sincerity. The film also broke new ground with its audacity towards atypical sexual material, involving the same immaturity from the Farrelly’s prior projects but with extra visual vulgarities and a frequently braless Diaz. Yet while the production features a supporting cast of recognizable faces (Harland Williams, Jeffrey Tambor, Richard Jenkins, Sarah Silverman), utilizes a peculiar framing device of a two-man band (a guitarist and percussionist), and showcases some of the most sidesplitting dog humor, it is not a consistently friendly movie in its dialogue and pacing. It goes for big jokes over comedic harmony. Despite a tone and structure that don’t evoke nonstop laughs (the occasional mean-spiritedness is certainly different), “There’s Something About Mary” is widely considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, garnering two Golden Globe nominations and landing on several Top 100 lists, including “AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Laughs: America’s Funniest Movies” special – at the commendable #27 spot.
– Mike Massie