Looking Back: The Farrelly Brothers Used to Make Funny Comedies?
by Ethan Anderton
April 13, 2012
With a stretch of movies starting with Osmosis Jones in 2001, all the way to Hall Pass just last year, the recent "comedies" of brothers Peter & Bobby Farrelly between there have included Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, Fever Pitch and The Heartbreak Kid. It's not exactly an Uwe Boll worthy line-up of films, but these are easily some of the worst comedies of their given years of release. Taking that into account, you'd think the Farrelly Brothers were just hacks who can't seem to do anything but inexplicably fit Richard Jenkins into most of their films. But there was a time when the sibling duo actually used to make very funny movies.
In "honor" of The Three Stooges, which currently sits with a low 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, I'd like to look back at the 8-year run of four films that gave Bobby and Peter Farrelly the career that they sadly still have today. It's sad to think that this career has led them to their more than a decade in development passion project of a big screen Three Stooges tale in what seems to be a poor homage to a truly funny classic comedy trio, but we can still enjoy this small batch of movies from the glorious decade known as the 90's. Ironically enough, since the last film that I found myself truly appreciating was in the year 2000, it's like the duo hit some sort of strange Y2K inspired comedy drought, and the only way they can recover is by going back to the beginning of their career with a Dumb & Dumber sequel. And that's exactly where we kick things off:
Dumb & Dumber (1994) - Recently named by Yahoo! as one of the 100 Funniest Movies to See Before You Die, this is a modern comedy classic, and it's a hell of a film to mark the directorial debut of Bobby and Peter Farrelly. Pairing the unlikely duo of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels together was quite a bold move, and it almost didn't happen. Initially, Carrey wanted his Peggy Sue Got Married co-star Nicolas Cage to star. Instead, the now infamously peculiar actor took a completely different direction by going for his career defining role in Leaving Las Vegas.
The result is Jeff Daniels impressively matching wits with the already established over-the-top comedy of Jim Carrey after his star-making turn in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The two feel like the strangest brothers, maybe not a far cry from the Farrelly's themselves (though the directing duo isn't quite as dumb, despite their recent comedic efforts), and it's the chemistry and rapport the two seem to have built on set that make this a comedy that has stood a short test of time so far, and makes me laugh to this day. The film also kicks off some staple Farrelly Brothers' traits of espionage and intrigue amongst silly, comedic situations and, of course, putting their amateur friends in bit parts throughout their movies. However, unlike their later efforts, much of their more vulgar and crude humor, though still present, was fairly tame put to the side to allow for a bigger audience. Maybe they should've stuck with that formula.
Kingpin (1996) - This film seems to be largely overlooked when reflecting on the 90's, but this is easily one of the Top 20 comedies of that decade. At a time before Woody Harrelson hit a bit of a slump, not unlike his character Roy Munson, and way before Randy Quaid went crazy, the two teamed up for this road trip bowling comedy. That's right, a comedy set in the world of bowling and with all the staples of a road trip tale. It's easily the best film about bowling ever made (though that might be a point of contention if you consider The Big Lebowski to truly be about bowling and not just a feature of the film), and it's helped immensely by Bill Murray's last great supporting performances aside from roles in Wes Anderson films and his cameo in Zombieland.
Here is where some of the more bold vulgar trends in Farrellys' comedy starts to manifest itself with Lin Shaye as Harrelson's disgusting, cunnilingus craving landlord and some other choice crude bits. However, it doesn't yet begin to create a crack in their comedic style. Again, the film is driven by the truly amazing chemistry of an unlikely duo in Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid. But the two man formula doesn't last past their second feature film, as they move to broaden their audience with their first romantic comedy.
There's Something About Mary (1998) - Though his career was already on the verge of a breakthrough, it wasn't until his lead role in this comedy that Ben Stiller truly became a leading man. Interestingly enough, this was the film where Cameron Diaz really took off as a leading lady (though her true breakthrough came after turning Jim Carrey's head in The Mask). The claim to fame here is making a shot of jizz in the hair a pop culture phenomenon after Ben Stiller so clumsily loses his goof juice only to have Ms. Diaz mistake it for hair gel.
However, what made this comedy so original was the interesting twist involving Chris Elliot's low key character and a certain (then relevant) football player cameo. At this time the Farrellys really knew how to surprise their audience and not have it be more than shock value. It was funny, made sense, and was helped along by the genuine performance of its romantic leads in Stiller and Diaz, especially as awkward high schoolers in the opening. Here's where Bobby and Peter really started pushing the envelope though, as the jizz in the hair was also accompanied by frank and beans getting stuck in the zipper and some of the most rubbery and leathery sun-tanned old woman boobs, nastily brought to you by Lin Shaye yet again. Though this was their first R-rated film, they wouldn't really dispatch with manners until…
Me, Myself & Irene (2000) - This might be where I lose some of you, and comedy fans might think that the Farrelly Brothers only have three truly funny films. But as a big fan of 90's Jim Carrey, this still struck the right comedy chords for me as they let Carrey loose, just like a tiger in a theme park. Films like Liar Liar, Ace Ventura, The Mask and Dumb & Dumber proved that Carrey was at his best letting his facial expressions, physical demeanor and flexible body run wild with his imagination. With a split personality, Carrey was able to match wits with the only comedian who could shake a stick at his silliness: himself.
Another Reality Bites co-star finds success with the Farrellys this time around as Renee Zellweger does her best to stand opposite Jim Carrey and Jim Carrey, making every scene about himself. This is about as raunchy and silly as I came to tolerate the Farrellys, as they moved on to more immature toilet humor and seemingly less funny jokes after this. This was like dessert that was close to being too much to cap off a great four course meal that lasted eight good years. But Carrey makes this flick work (at least in my opinion). Actors should study it as a way to move their body independent of their mind and really let themselves get lost in a role, because Carrey is a master at his craft here. Only in his more serious roles like Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine do we see him really stretch every muscle in his body, literally and figuratively.
And that brings us to today. Twelve years later and the Farrelly Brothers don't have much comedy left in them, as The Three Stooges clearly illustrates, despite their loyalty to slapstick and the spirit of the original "Three Stooges," it's just too little too late. Which means it's time for Peter and Bobby to go back to the well.
Nearly 20 years after launching their career with Dumb & Dumber, they're bringing Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels back together as early as this fall for a sequel to see what Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunn are up to almost two decades after all their shenanigans back in Aspen. A lot has happened since then, and there's been a lot of terrible movies made by the Farrellys since this time, but I'm hoping these characters bring them back to their roots, away from the toilet humor that is plaguing their once-clever comedy, and back to some semblance of real laughter again. Feel free to sound off about the Farrelly Brothers below!