Looking Back: The Farrelly Brothers Used to Make Funny Comedies?

April 13, 2012

The Farrelly Brothers

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

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

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

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!

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They went downhill after Stuck On You. Fever Pitch was ok but was way overrated only because of the Red Sox winning the World Series.

Tyban on Apr 13, 2012


Fever Pitch is one of my favorite rom coms, and I'm not even a sox fan. Don't know why people don't like that movie. 

ion677 on Apr 14, 2012


Obviously they've lost touch with their audience.

Moon on Apr 13, 2012


I may have included Osmosis Jones on this list.  It's a rather interesting film and I think they pulled it off considering the plot.  I also didn't mind Hall Pass.  It was the first film of theirs that I've enjoyed since their 90's haul. One thing I will say about these films is that even though I still find them funny they're not as funny as I thought they were when they were originally released.  Comedy has changed so much since the 90's and while I agree the Farrelly's have slipped its magnified by the fact that comedy has changed and the standard for "outlandish" (which is what made them funny to begin with) has been pushed to not just a different level but a different direction.  The Hangover is probably the comedy standard today and that humor is considerably different than what was in Something About Mary.  They're both silly, but Mary is silly in a cheesy way. I'm hoping for the best with Dumb and Dumber 2 but I agree with you....it appears that the Farrelly's were a one decade act. (unless they revamp their style)

Aero027 on Apr 13, 2012


The Hangover was terrible, and its acceptance as the standard for comedy today shows exactly why comedy movies have been bad for so long now. Back to Farrelly brothers movies, Shallow Hal is one of their best films.  It actually did something I thought impossible: it made me like Gwyneth Paltrow and see her as sweet, funny, and charming instead of pretentious and annoying, and it made Jack Black tolerable for me, if only briefly.

MoviesAreGettingWorseEveryYear on Apr 15, 2012


Cmon now... Heartbreak Kid wasnt THAT bad... One of my favorites actually 🙂

LosZombies on Apr 13, 2012


They were a 1 hit wonder as far as I'm concerned, but I don't even think Dumb And Dumber was that great. Guess dumb-ass movies aren't for me

Charles on Apr 13, 2012


Which is weird because they actually had 4 or 5 hits.  I guess you round down?

Geoffrey Shauger on Apr 14, 2012


I repeat: as far as I'm concerned.

Charles on Apr 15, 2012


Let's face it they can't all be homeruns! I actually liked the Heartbreak Kid too! Malin Akerman was hilarious and so was Jerry Stiller! The Three Stooges really looks terrible but I'll check it out on Netflix. I look forward to Dumb and Dumber 2!

Crazy Legs on Apr 13, 2012


Well written Ethan, I'm one of the folks who liked 'Me, Myself & Irene', Jim Carey doing what he does best, making us laugh hard. I'm a little saddened by the news of a new Dumb & Dumber, as I don't think they will be able to live up the expectations people will have of it, but here's for hope.

David Carlin on Apr 13, 2012


Two of my favorite comedies are There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber.  There's talk of a Dumb and Dumber sequel involving Jim Carrey, is that still going on? 

Marc Callado on Apr 13, 2012


 this guy didnt read the whole article haha

prantsdagger on Apr 13, 2012


Yep, missed that last paragraph.  

Marc Callado on Apr 14, 2012


There's a lot of hate for The Stooges movie...I just got back from seeing it and I actually thought it was a nice homage to the legendary trio, all of the nonbelievers should really go see it in theaters, it was a lot better than I thought it would be. They even made the Jersey Shore scene work!

BATMAN on Apr 13, 2012


I liked it in the theater..I loved it at home..and it only gets better. It is the essence of the Stooges. No one could have done it better.....

Dan Çooper on Apr 15, 2013


Just as everything has to live, it must also die.

Crapola on Apr 13, 2012


Limitations: they couldn't get Nicolas Cage for Dumb and Dumber so they had to compromise. A lot of movies end up being good because things didn't got to plan, not inspite of it. Now that the Farrellys have more pull in Hollywood, they don't have to compromise... Same theory I heard for Lucas

Richie G on Apr 14, 2012


Yeah I liked Osmosis Jones. And Shallow Hal too. What's wrong with Shallow Hal?

George Abboud on Apr 14, 2012


 Shallow Hal had some great scenes, Black was fantastic in the scene where he finds out Cadence is actually burned very badly...touching scene.

Xerxexx on Apr 15, 2012


 this article hit the nail on the head.

Don Le on Apr 14, 2012


I love lamp

Brick on Apr 14, 2012


"Outside Providence" anybody?  It's surprisingly thoughtful as well as funny.  (though they didn't direct it...)

Dave on Apr 15, 2012


I've got to put my love for Osmosis Jones out there. Great animation—a wonderful blend of traditional and CGI that had great voice talents, especially Fishburne. AND some of the best and last comedy-movie contributions from Murray and Elliot. Me, Myself & Irene was just the confirmation needed that slapstick Carey was on his way out alongside the Farrelly brothers, it was just no good. Nice run-down/look-back. Consider this for future posts!

Voice of Reason on Apr 16, 2012

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