There’s Something About Mary

Hey, what’s with the film business? It’s becoming the brother business. They must have all gone to top business schools. First there were the Coen brothers, who’ve made their career working together on films like ‘Blood Simple,’ ‘Raising Arizona,’ ‘Barton Fink,’ ‘Fargo,’ and ‘The Big Lebowski.’ Then there were the Hughes brothers, who made ‘Menace 2 Society.’ Now we have Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who work together and made ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ then ‘Kingpin,’ and now ‘There’s Something about Mary,’ which opened last week to fine reviews from everybody from Roger Ebert to Janet Maslin of the Times.

And the one thing they all loved about it is that it’s absolutely shameless. It makes very, very frank jokes about masturbation, about developmentally disabled people, known to some in the film as retards, about gays, about stalkers, and probably half a dozen classes of people and behavior that I’ve forgotten. And the trigger for the plot, such as it is, is an episode where the lead’s penis and testicles are caught in his fly zipper when he shows up at his date’s house for the high school prom. Is that funny or what?

Well, normally that’s my kind of film. I love the Zucker-Abraham-Zucker films like ‘Airplane,’ ‘Naked Gun,’ and ‘Top Secret’ precisely because nothing’s sacred, from pedophilia in the cockpit to postal workers going crazy to Omar Sharif being compacted in a car to an airman playing football on the deck of a carrier and going out too far for a pass. So, never having seen a Farrelly brothers film I was really looking forward to this one.

And let’s be clear. The film isn’t really about Mary; it’s about a chronic loser -- the one with the fly -- who’s played by Ben Stiller. In Yiddish there are two kinds of losers: the schlemiel and the schlemazel. The schlemiel is the guy who spills his food in the lap of the innocent person at the next table. The schlemazel is the one who always gets spilled on. In movies, the one who’s funny is the schlemiel, because the schlemiel could, possibly, somehow, find a way to change his behavior. But the schlemazel is only there for the comic moment. He could be anybody. And that’s the problem with this film. Ben Stiller is just an anybody. He’s such a loser, and so many bad things happen to him, which he never seems to learn from, and through the whole film he only reacts to what other people tell him and do to him, that he holds no interest at all for us in the audience.

There’s gorgeous Cameron Diaz, his prom date, who really liked him and whom he dreams about for thirteen more years without doing anything about her, and I can tell you that if Cameron Diaz showed any interest at all in me, I would be after her in a flash. Slow as I am, it wouldn’t take me thirteen years to find out if she still cared.

In this film, by the way, at the age of 31 or 32, Diaz has somehow managed to establish herself as a successful orthopedic surgeon in Miami. Go figure. Maybe they do things faster down south.

So, first I thought, am I too old for this? Is that the problem? Well, maybe, but I saw it with a very sophisticated nineteen-year-old, and he had the same reaction I did. This was just a bad film, ineptly written, not very well directed, and, with maybe two or three exceptions, one of which is the dog you saw in the trailer, not funny at all. However, rather than just let me off the hook, when we got home my nineteen-year-old made me watch the Farrelly brothers’ last film, ‘Kingpin,’ the one with Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray, and Randy Quaid as bowlers competing for a million dollars, and I have to say it’s a lot of fun, very well written and directed and acted. So now I can forgive the Farrellys for this one, and maybe hope the next one will work.

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