Review Legacy

There’s Something About Mary (1998)

The Farrelly brothers operate in a mode of gross-out humor, and that’s unmistakably on display here, for better and worse (the balance between “better” and “worse” will depend quite a bit on individual taste, but I found it a pretty even split). Certainly many of the disgusting slapstick gags are creative, memorable, and iconic.

It’s also two hours long. Two fucking hours, man, for a goddamn gross-out frat boy comedy. Talk about exhausting and padded.

And yet…

I find There’s Something About Mary to be kind charming. Admirable, even.

Beyond the wacky gags and set pieces, this movie attempts to be a satire of romantic comedy. Mary is a sort of perfect dream girl but also one of the guys — the kind of attainable Hollywood blonde bombshell that rom-coms traffic in, but don’t exist in real life. Her real flaw is that she falls for any guy with whom she shares a superficial connection, perhaps driven by coincidences like shared favorite movies and “meet-cutes.”

It’s the guys who come off worse. TSAM ratchets every toxic so-called romantic element of romantic comedies to a horrifying 11: Stalker-ish behavior, refusing to accept “no” for an answer, dreaming about long-lost small connections, sticking to dumb lies. It warps every male character into a crusty, slimy piece of crap, to the point that it ruins the protagonist we are actually supposed to root for.

On paper, all of this is pretty clever. In practice, it means we spend a lot of time with awful, miserable people, and we want Mary to join a convent to avoid the creeps she attracts.

Worst of all, the movie actually tries to be a legitimate romantic comedy under all of the satire, so that it’s tough to take seriously when Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz share romantic moments.

Despite all its flaws, I found a pleasing flow and narrative thrust to the movie. It demonstrates more ambitions than, say, Dumb and Dumber, which is unabashedly a joke vehicle. And if it doesn’t stick the landing, it sure as hell tries. There’s lots of compelling twists, like a troubadour that follows the story around and a lovely credits sequence.

It’s also hard to deny that the cast, overstuffed with talented comedians and “no way, him/her?” appearances, delivers. Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller carry the movie. Matt Dillon inhabits his sleazebag character (I blame this movie for ruining him in other films). Chris Elliot is a gross goon. And so many others.

Is It Good?

Very Good (6/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.

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