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.
Nah, that was us – we did that.
– on whether a decidedly Farrelly-esque gross-out gag was in the original Hall Pass script, or added in their re-write
Shallow Hal (2001)
Even back then, Hollywood still didn’t know precisely what to do with Jack Black. He’s a looks-obsessed would-be ladies man hypnotized into being able to see people’s “inner self,” which leads to romance with an elephantine girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow in an unconvincing fat suit) who he perceives as a goddess (i.e. “regular” Gwyneth Paltrow). Cute enough idea, but the joke is old after a few minutes.
Stuck on You (2003)
Whether consciously or not, this considerably less-raucus PG-13 entry was widely viewed as an attempt by the Brothers to work outside their “body humor” formula, with mixed but mostly-worthy results. Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear are conjoined twins from Martha’s Vineyard who move to Hollywood so one of them can try making it as an actor. As you might expect, they run out of the expected physical comedy bits well before it’s over, but it’s hardly a chore to sit through.
Fever Pitch (2005)
The original Fever Pitch was a British film focusing on an overly-devoted soccer fan. The American remake (which the Brothers directed but did not write) decided to switch the focus to the Boston Red Sox, a baseball team known for their incredibly devoted fans and epic run of bad luck come World Series time. Since you could historically count on The Sox to ultimately lose championships, the film was written and mostly shot in tandem with the team’s real 2004 season … which, of course, turned out to be the first time in ages that the team actually went all the way, necessitating that the entire ending of the film be reworked (and for stars Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore to appear on the field during the actual victory, raising the ire of some serious fans). If only the actual movie were as interesting as that behind-the-scenes stuff, people outside of Boston might have cared more.
The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
It was a Mary reunion for the Farrellys and Ben Stiller, but this time everything fell flat. Technically, it’s a loose remake of 1970s Elaine May/Neil Simon comedy about a newly-married Jewish man who upends his life to covertly pursue a blonde all-American “dream woman” – during his honeymoon – ending with the implication that he’s lost his identity in pursuit of a false ideal. The new version flips the script, with Stiller as a luckless nice guy who hastily marries an impossibly perfect dreamgirl (future Silk Specter Malin Ackerman) only to realize she’s a lunatic on their honeymoon – where he makes a real love connection with a “normal” gal. Odious non-comedian Carlos Mencia appears as a crudely drawn Mexican stereotype sidekick, as the film was made during that brief moment of national insanity when it looked like he was going to be the next big thing.
No, we don’t because … we didn’t invent it. Animal House was around long before we came on. I never think that way. There are a lot of good R-rated comedies being made, and occasionally I’ll think – “damn! I wish I’d thought of that.” Like The Hangover … the sound of that story feels like I almost thought of it, y’know? And we like those guys! Judd Apatow, Todd Philips, Sacha Baron Cohen, Seth MacFarlane; we’re happy to be mentioned with those guys. As opposed to the Freddy Got Fingered guys.
– on whether or not they feel under-credited with popularizing the modern R-rated relationship comedy
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.