There’s Something About Mary (review)

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Dumber and Dumber

What I learned from There’s Something About Mary:

Masturbation is extremely funny. Also: the word weiner. It is a riot to see a guy scream in pain as he zips the most sensitive part of his body into his fly. Homosexuality is hilarious. Basically, anything involving the penis is good for a laugh.

Surprisingly, Mary wasn’t written by 14-year-old boys. Nor were they the only ones to make this coarse, half-witted movie such a huge hit — just about everyone seemed to have loved it.

I weep for America.
I was dreading seeing There’s Something About Mary. The last movie from Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Dumb and Dumber, was the first and so far only movie I have ever seriously considered walking out of (I like to give a movie a chance, though, and so I persevered, to my detriment). I could tell from the previews that Mary was just not to my taste. And finally, a dear friend of mine and survivor of a screening of Mary pleaded with me to just put down the video and step away.

But I felt that I could not call myself a movie commentator and refuse to see one of the biggest movies of 1998 — and also, frankly, it’s a lot of fun to write about bad movies. So here we are.

The story is beside the point. Briefly, Ted (Ben Stiller, director of The Cable Guy) hires sleazeball private investigator Pat (Matt Dillon) to find his high-school dream girl, Mary (Cameron Diaz from My Best Friend’s Wedding). Pat succeeds in finding her and falls in love with her himself. Ted and Pat vie for Mary’s attentions — see, there’s just something about Mary.

She’s perfect, naturally. She’s a jock, she reads the sports pages, she can talk football. She’s a surgeon. She’s beautiful (if you like anorexics with freakish grins). The impossibility of her flawlessness only emphasizes that it’s just her looks that matter. The something about Mary is that she has a propensity for undressing in front of windows. Also: her perpetually engorged nipples threaten to rip through clothing as painfully thin as she is.

Padding out an insipid little “romantic” story about stalkers is just about the crudest type of humor imaginable. There’s lowbrow humor that uses crudity and a shocking lack of political correctness to comment on itself and the kind of people who actually think, say, that another human being’s pain is funny — Mike Judge, creative force behind Beavis & Butt-Head and King of the Hill, knows how to wield that kind of blunt instrument. And then there’s the Farrelly brothers’ brand of lowbrow humor.

We’re supposed to understand, for example, that Mary is a sensitive woman because she adores her retarded brother, Warren, and spends lots of time with him, and because she also wants a man for herself who will enjoy Warren’s company as much as she does. And yet, many of Mary‘s jokes are at Warren’s expense and that of his similarly slow friends. There’s Something About Mary wants to have it both ways, showing kindness to an unfortunate and simultaneously poking mean, adolescent fun at him.

Likewise, when Mary’s friend Tucker (Lee Evans, so wonderful in Mouse Hunt) enters the story, dragging his palsied body on crutches, you can see the irrelevant and stupid jokes at his expense coming a mile away. That he later turns out to be faking his handicap is immaterial — the audience is meant to laugh at the awkwardness of navigating the world if one is not physically perfect.

Dumb and Dumber featured a scene — the one with the laxative — that left me feeling embarrassed for actor Jeff Daniels. Likewise, the scene in Mary in which Ted, er, acquires the “hair gel” left me mortified for Ben Stiller. Poor Ben: his eponymous television show from the early 90s was so literate and so clever as well as being hilarious. Now he’s reduced to pantomiming masturbation on camera, and worse, becoming a big star because of it. But that’s America for you: Crap sells, and anything that requires that you have read a few books doesn’t.

It’s not Mary‘s lack of political correctness I have a problem with, nor is it the crudity. What annoys me is the cheapness of the jokes — characters like Warren and Tucker are merely piñatas to be wacked at — and the jokes’ lack of connection to the story’s plot or the development of the characters. Mary‘s “humor” never builds on what’s come before and never moves the plot along to the next stage, and it never offers any insight or depth to the characters. (By contrast, something very similiar to the pointless abuse of Mary’s little dog has been done before, and better, in a short British film called Rik Mayall Presents Briefest Encounter, in which it was actually clever and funny and intricately connected to plot and character.)

Watching Mary at home was less actively annoying than it would have been if I had been surrounded in a darkened theater by an audience rolling on the floor. Instead, I was completely and utterly bored by it.

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