Outside Providence (review)

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There’s Something About the Farrellys

The Farrelly brothers have done it again. If you liked There’s Something About Mary and want to feel all hip and happening by catching an independent film — even though you usually hate those talky, obscure pieces of crap — then Outside Providence is the film for you.

Like Mary, Outside Providence — directed by Michael Corrente, it is nevertheless written by Peter and Bobby Farrelly (with Corrente), based on Peter’s novel — is an adolescent male fantasy about snagging the perfect girl, padded out with gross-out humor and numerous jokes at the expense of both handicapped people and abused animals. If watching teenagers get high and drunk is a laugh riot for you, then by all means, enjoy.
Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy: The Postman, In and Out) lives outside Providence, Rhode Island, with his loser father (Alec Baldwin: Mercury Rising, The Edge — I must give him credit for his willingness to look so white-trashy on film), who calls his son “Dildo” — cue laughter ; his wheelchair-bound brother, from whose condition Corrente tries to squeeze lots of laughs; and an inexplicably three-legged, one-eyed dog that is the butt of many a joke. The year is 1974, not that that particularly makes much of a difference. Tim doesn’t do much but hang out at the cemetery with his drugged-out friends (one of them is even nicknamed — wait for it — Drugs), but when he does something that makes even a screw-up like him look stupid, Dad packs Tim off to Cornwall Academy.

“At Cornwall, we expect more” is the prep school’s motto. Its rules are a list of Nos (“no drugs, no sex”), and the dean proudly notes that they haven’t “liberalized” the curriculum. At Cornwall, the adults pick on the dorkiest kids and force them to debase themselves in front of rest of school. Not surprisingly, Tim will be a force of liberalization at Cornwall, and will see to it that the mean old adults get what’s coming to them.

Oh, and then there’s Jane Weston (Amy Smart: Starship Troopers), “the coolest girl in school.” With her long blond hair, monied pedigree, and an actual brain in her head, who will she fall for this year at Cornwall? Tim, naturally, whose luggage consists of a black garbage bag, who’s in “retard classes” because he actually is a moron, and whose idiocy is mistaken for a great sense of humor. For no reason other than he’s obviously a stand-in for Peter Farrelly, the gorgeous, smart Jane will fall madly in love with Tim.

Never fear: the smart kids, like Irving (Jack Ferver, a standout in the otherwise mediocre young cast), Tim’s roommate, will be treated mostly with disdain by the filmmakers — you can practically feel the glee with which they reveal the humiliating situation in which poor Irving got his nickname, Jizz. Dad and his poker-playing, beer-guzzling buddies will obnoxiously deconstruct male homosexuality (though, again unsurprisingly, they’re in for a little surprise in this arena). Pot will be smoked; beer will be drunk; puke will be puked. The Farrelly brothers wouldn’t dare disappoint their fans.

Genuinely interesting characters lurk just below the surface here, though they don’t appear anywhere near often enough. It’s almost impossible for Tim’s dad to show his son any affection, but one scene — which feels as if it was lifted from another film — sees Dad showing Tim how to tie a tie, and the unspoken love between the two momentarily lifts Outside Providence above its juvenile perspective, allowing it float tenderly into a more rarefied realm.

But then it’s back to the leaden adolescent humor we’ve come to expect from the Farrellys. Outside Providence is Dead Poets Society for potheads — if that sounds like a good thing to you, you’re sure to love it. If not, avoid, avoid, avoid.

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