Chalk another one up for films that you once thought were funny but not so much anymore. The one today is There’s Something About Mary (1998). It is one of the early Farrelly Brothers films from the late 1990s, a time when we are all innocent to their dreck. I should not be so harsh. There are some films of theirs that I do enjoy, like Fever Pitch (2005) and . . . um . . . well. . . . They also made Movie 43 (2013), which objectively is one of the worst films ever made. You do not have to take my word for it. It earned the Golden Raspberry Award for the Worst Picture of 2013. But then in 2018 they won the Academy Award for Best Picture with Green Book, so go figure. My love for Fever Pitch aside, on the whole I would say that the Farrelly Brothers are a bunch of hacks that use crude humor to produce cheap laughs. That summarizes the bulk of their body of work. Maybe they have turned a corner recently, but only time will tell. In the meantime, I will use There’s Something About Mary as an example of their un-funny approach to comedy, particularly when viewed today.
There’s Something About Mary begins innocuously enough, with Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) reminiscing through voice over about how he had fell in love when he was in high school. The object of his affections is Mary Jensen (Cameron Diaz). There was something I had forgotten about her character that took me completely out of the movie, and that is her special needs brother Warren (W. Earl Brown). I will explain more about why I found this character so distasteful, but I do not have to go long without talking about a different scene with crude humor. After Ted defends Warren from bullies, Mary asks him if he wanted to go to prom with her. The shy, mouth full of braces Ted eagerly accepts. However, when he goes to pick her up on the appointed night, he manages to get his privates stuck in his zipper and has to go to the hospital. Ha . . . ha . . . ha. . . . Apparently the shame of the situation led to them never speaking, and her family happens to move away while he was in the hospital. Thirteen years later, though, Ted is still thinking about her, believing they had some sort of deep connection even though they had interacted for all of two seconds. He then goes for the oh-so-healthy option of hiring Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), a private investigator, to track Mary down. All Ted knows is that she is in Miami. I could not help but think that all this could have been accomplished today through social media, but then again the internet did exist in 1998. I guess that would not be as funny? At any rate, Pat takes Ted for a stalker, and I cannot totally blame him. Yet, when Pat arrives in Miami and starts stalking-by-proxy (a phrase I just invented for hiring private investigators), he learns that there is, er, something about Mary. She is not only still gorgeous, but she is also well liked by everyone, volunteers with a group that cares for people with special needs like Warren, and is single. Thus, instead of telling Ted the truth, Pat feeds his client a line of malarkey about being overweight and a mail-order bride in Japan. He then goes back to Miami and begins dating her himself. Meanwhile, Ted’s chiropractor (William Garson, though in the credits he literally appears as Dr. Zit Face) informs him that Mary is none of those things, having run into her at a convention. Ted next makes the decision to drive down to Miami from Rhode Island himself. He arrives there, after an unfunny interlude along the way, and commences to some light stalking of his own. He eventually runs into Mary, and during the course of their conversation he convinces her to ditch the “jerk” she is going out with and have dinner with him. Somehow this works. There is another unmentionably disgusting scene that is meant to be comical, but they begin dating. This makes the others who had been pursuing/stalking Mary jealous, among them the impostor handicapped Norm Phipps (Lee Evans) who Mary knows as Tucker. Together, Pat and Norm attempt to derail Ted. However, things come to a head when Mary’s high school boyfriend Woogie (Chris Elliott), whom Ted knows as his friend Dom Woganowski and whom Mary had to get a restraining order against, shows up and reveals that Ted had hired Pat. This is understandably upsetting for Mary. Eventually, they all confront Mary, feeling like they should choose between them, even though all had lied to her in one form or another. Ted, though, tracks down Brett Favre who Mary had previously dated, says they should be together, and leaves. But because she is a 49ers fan and not a Packers fan (one saving grace, at least), she ends up going with Ted.
Getting back to what took me out of There’s Something About Mary, as soon as I saw Warren a lot of what I did not remember about the film came back to me. Simply put, I could not abide the way it treats people with special needs. I will credit it for showing the care with which Mary treats her brother and his friends. But Warren acts in a stereotypical way that was common for the way special needs people were viewed at that time. “Common” also describes their portrayal, as in demeaning and lacking worth. Warren has delays in his learning and he does not like people touching his ears. When those he does not trust invade his space, he flies into a violent rage and proceeds to pummel that person. Such behavior should not be laughed at, and I hope the Farrelly brothers would not film such depictions today. I was also uncomfortable with the ways Pat talked about people with special needs. It is supposed to show the audience that he really does not know how to create the proper false persona as he uses derogatory terms in trying to convince Mary that he cares about people like Warren as she does. However, it is played for laughs, but Mary, after a few tense moments, buys into his load of crap. Not only was I not laughing, but one has to question why an audience would care about somebody who is so easily duped. Though not completely, it does in part take away from Mary’s sense of Christian charity. Okay, so the Church has welcomed simpletons and more sophisticated people alike, and each have done amazing things in helping their fellow man. It just irks me personally that she would give in to such an obvious huckster as Pat, comedy or not.
There’s Something About Mary is rated R for its language and crude humor. Cursing aside, no one needs to see private parts stuck in pants’ flies, or an elderly woman’s breasts (even if they are fake). The voyeuristic nature of much of the rest of proceedings is another layer of creepy. All this, along with the dated jokes, makes for a film that is best left in 1998.