At the turn of the Millennium, the writer/directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly were on top of the comedy world - with a string of hits movies capped off by the phenomenally popular There's Something About Mary. But as the 2000s have rolled on, many of the brothers' projects have struggled to find the same success. Their dream project, a modern revival of The Three Stooges, has started and stopped at least three times, and The Heartbreak Kid, largely seen as an attempt by both the brothers and star Ben Stiller to make the Mary lightning strike twice, was a box office and critical failure. Meanwhile, the "R-rated relationship comedy for guys" genre has become increasingly crowded with high-profile figures like Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips.
Now the Farrellys are back with Hall Pass, a comedy with Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis as perpetually immature best friends trying - and mostly failing - to make the most of a "week off" from marital fidelity granted by their fed-up wives. I sat down for a group interview with the brothers when they brought the film home to New England (they're locals) for a sneak preview. Here are some choice quotes from that interview, along with a brief look back at the Farrelly filmography to this point.
When we shot [the "Dumb & Dumber" snowball fight] ... that's not funny. But then when we cut it together ... our sound effects guy finally put one in, and we were just howling. Fun fact: That [sound effect] was the crack of the bat on Hank Aaron's 715th home-run.
- on the importance of good sound design
Dumb & Dumber (1994)
Farrelly Movie Zero had the good fortune of starring Jim Carrey at the epicenter of his early-90s megapopularity, catapulting the oddball farce and its newcomer creators to instant notoriety and setting an early template of adding modern scatological humor to a setup that's otherwise straight out of Golden Age screwball-comedy. Carrey and Jeff Daniels star as a pair of idiots unwittingly mucking-up a kidnap/ransom plot in Aspen. It's easy to see the ever-present Three Stooges influence, and unlike a lot of similar comedies, it actually still holds up.
Woody Harrelson, right in the middle of his post-Cheers reinvention as both a serious actor and an agent of pitch-black humor, is a hook-handed former bowling-champ mentoring an Amish ten-pin prodigy (pre-meltdown Randy Quaid) on a road trip. For the longest time, this was the great underrated Farrelly Bros. gem - the odd-man-out in between the Carrey-fueled mega-success of Dumb and the Mary phenomenon (it's also one of the few times they didn't write the initial screenplay). In many ways, it now seems ahead of its time; two years later, The Big Lebowski would turn Midwestern "bowling culture" into the Patron Sport of sentimental hipster-irony, while its glib regard for Middle-American kitsch will be instantly familiar to fans of the Tim & Eric cycle.
[An Italian fan] was telling us "Yeah, we have that concept [of a marriage "Hall Pass"] in Italy ... we call it the weekend."
- on the universality, or lack thereof, of Hall Pass's story
There's Something About Mary (1998)
Watching the Farrellys' unquestioned career high point today isn't as much like stepping into a time machine as it is stepping into an entire alternate dimension: Ben Stiller as a ball of energetic anger, rather than a family-friendly magical museum keeper? Cameron Diaz as an ethereally-beautiful siren, rather than a one-note irritant? Bodily fluids, genital violence, mental handicaps and unpleasant nudity as "edgy" R-rated comedy fodder, rather than stuff you can get for free on basic cable? To be charitable, the years haven't really been kind to the stuff that made it a "must-see" back in '98, but the absurd story at its core - Diaz's Mary as an impossibly-perfect Dream Woman pursued by an army of bumbling would-be suitors - still amuses.
Me, Myself & Irene (2000)
For me, this is still the Farrellys' best movie - and easily a high point for mercurial star Jim Carrey as well. A sweet but frustrated Rhode Island State Trooper (Carrey) develops an "evil" split personality, which causes trouble when both of him develop an attraction to the beautiful fugitive (Rene Zellwegger) they're supposed to be escorting cross-country. This is the movie where the Brothers seemed to fully cut loose on what's become a formula of their projects (New England settings, buddy cameos, plus-sized runtimes) but when it's on, it's just on.