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DELICATE SENSIBILITIES? WELL, TOO BAD - FARRELLY BROTHERS GET LAST LAUGH.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Writer

It's a Farrelly kind of world. We only have to smell it.

``How far will we go?'' Bobby Farrelly asks rhetorically at the start of an interview. As anyone knows who's seen the movies he and brother Peter have written and directed - ``Dumb & Dumber,'' ``Kingpin,'' ``There's Something About Mary'' and their latest, ``Me, Myself & Irene'' - the answer to that one is pretty @#$%* far.

The two guys from Rhode Island suffered an unusual critical drubbing for ``Irene,'' their outlandish reunion with ``D&D'' star Jim Carrey. Usually respected as the Picassos of gross-out humor, they were widely criticized for being too mean, repeating themselves and, yes, going too far this time around.

Among the more outraged comments: How could they let Carrey's split-personality cop do that to a bratty little girl? Why, oh why, do his three African-American, MENSA member sons have to use expletives in every sentence? Where was the ASPCA observer when that chicken scene was shot?

In other words, the Farrellys' comedy actually offended sensibilities in this outing, and we just can't have that.

But while ``Irene's'' ultimate box office fate remains to be seen, it did register the brothers' biggest opening weekend gross by a long measure, $24 million as opposed to long-run blockbuster ``Mary's'' $13 million debut. And although the film's initial numbers lagged behind those of other Carrey comedy hits, they were still the best ever registered for an R-rated original comedy.

But numbers only tell part of the story. The Farrellys have spawned a new era of slob comedy, as imitators flood the market with movies that strain to top one another in the juvenile ickiness department.

The thing is, no one does this skanky stuff quite as well as Peter and Bobby (for those who need proof, check out the scatalogical but comparatively witless ``Scary Movie'' opening next week). And there is, of course, a method to the Farrellys' badness that most of their shock comedy imitators just can't reproduce.

The brothers themselves are fairly obtuse when it comes to describing how their comedy works. They flog the idea that keeping their hero likable is the key to making any disgusting joke palatable.

``We don't sit down and think, 'Jeez, we had the hair thing in ``Something About Mary,'' how can we outdo that?' '' notes Peter, the younger, scruffier of the brothers, who are both in their early 40s. ``We think about plot and character first. Y'know, you can't hang that thing off Ben Stiller's ear if you don't love that guy. If you cut the gags out of our movies, I think you'd be surprised to find that they're almost sickeningly sweet stories underneath.''

True, as far as that goes. But it's the anything-could-happen, rule-breaking zaniness of the brothers' humor that attracts and repels with such magnetic intensity.

``It's rude and disgusting and borderline offensive and I love it; isn't that terrible to admit?'' admits Renee Zellweger, the well-mannered Texan who plays Irene, the object of desire for both of Carrey's personalities in the movie. ``It's refreshing to actually address the things that we're too embarrassed to talk about and go beyond it. The Farrellys are talented filmmakers and they understand comedy; they just have a keen awareness of what social taboos are funny and how to address them. It's like a relief, almost, the way they do it.''

Her co-star concurs.

``Peter and Bobby are just, for me, a breath of fresh air,'' Carrey explains. ``Especially after taking things seriously in my last two movies ('The Truman Show' and 'Man on the Moon'). I had such a great experience the first time with them, I knew I was going to have a good time and a lot of laughs on this one. But those guys are just wonderful people, too; they're still connected to everyone they've ever known in their lives. Me, I cut everyone off!''

That underlying sweetness thing again. But Carrey acknowledges that the Farrellys' sense of humor can get as downright nasty as his own - which, perhaps, is what makes them the perfect comic masterminds for our indelicate times.

``It reflects what's going on in society, what we have to deal with,'' Carrey observes. ``People talk about movies desensitizing people; I think society desensitizes movies. But at the heart of a movie like this, I think there's very good intentions, which is to nail the things that we all do and all talk about, but nobody has the guts to show.''

For all the scattershot vulgarity their films appear to indulge, the Farrellys do indeed drive in their gags like master carpenters tapping finishing nails.

And like such artisans, they can't hide a certain disdain for colleagues who don't live up to their standards.

``I'm amazed by some of these movies that are similar (to ours); I don't think that they do hit the right buttons,'' Peter reveals. ``I saw 'Road Trip.' It has four huge laughs, which is pretty good. But there's a couple of things in there where I thought they missed the boat. Not that they have to do things our way, but when, say, they steal that bus from the school for the blind, they didn't set that up. It's just mean; I think that movie could've worked a lot better if there were more heart inside it.''

Not that the Farrellys feel threatened or anything.

``I thought 'American Pie' was good,'' Bobby concedes. ``They did a great job, had a lot of different stories going on. Very entertaining.''

But even the masters of the form admit that it's not easy to tell where entertainment ends and repulsion begins with this kind of comedy.

``We are always thinking about going too far,'' Peter confesses. ``If we give ourselves and some other people a laugh, we try it. But, ultimately, we're never comfortable until we show it in front of an audience. Nobody tests a movie more than we do. We test it and test it and test it, show it to strangers time and time again. And we listen to them, and they tell us if we've gone too far.''

And nowadays, due mainly to the conceptual monster the Farrellys have unleashed, there's the constant, added threat of others going too far before they can.

``There was a scene (in 'Irene') involving Jim and a watermelon,'' Bobby reveals. ``Basically, he was just so hung up on Irene that he ended up ... It was very funny and we filmed it last summer. Then, lo and behold, 'American Pie' came out and it had that big pie scene. We thought, the last thing we wanted was anyone conceiving that we were ripping off 'American Pie,' even though it was a coincidental thing. So we cut that one out.''

It's that kind of keen shrewdness that makes the Farrellys kingpins of their fragrant realm ... for the near future, at least. Next summer will see Heather Graham and Chris Klein falling into unknowingly incestuous love in the brothers-produced ``Say It Isn't So,'' and Gwyneth Paltrow is scheduled to be inflated up to 300 pounds in their next directing effort, ``Shallow Hal.'' Their half-animated ``Osmosis Jones'' sends Chris Rock into Bill Murray's circulatory system. And there are plans in the works for an ``Irene'' spinoff featuring the three foul-mouthed brothers (Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee and Jerod Mixon) and their albino pal (Michael Bowman).

But the question remains: How long will they be able to get away with it?

``Look, we're still amazed that the hair-gel thing in 'Mary' got in,'' Peter notes. ``20th Century Fox gave us a lot of freedom in that movie, to their credit. They trusted us and it worked out for them, and so they continue to.''

And probably will until someone comes along who does it grosser and better.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) 'Me, Myself & Irene' makers Bobby and Peter Farrelly forge a new era of slob comedy

(2) Jim Carrey, left, star of the new gross-out comedy ``Me, Myself & Irene,'' says of working with Bobby, center, and Peter Farrelly: ``I had such a great experience the first time with them, I knew I was going to have a good time and a lot of laughs on this one. But those guys are just wonderful people, too; they're still connected to everyone they've ever known in their lives.''

(3) no caption (Bobby and Peter Farrelly)

(4) The Farrelly brothers exercise crass humor as Jim Carrey tries a ``novel'' way to put a cow out of its misery in ``Me, Myself & Irene.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 28, 2000
Words:1426
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