The Farrelly Brothers have always intentionally made comedies that walk an ever so fine line between being mean and good natured, whether it’s delightfully offensive (Me Myself & Irene) or benignly reined in (Stuck On You). They just understand and have this certain symbiosis with off colour humour and the fact that most of the films would be boycotted out of the theatres in this age of hysterical hyper sensitivity is a fair reminder that jokes are just jokes, everything is fair game or nothing is fair game and hey, fat jokes are just plain hilarious in the right dosage. Shallow Hal was a pleasant surprise for me, it’s their most compassionate and mature film while still retaining that edge where you’re not sure if they’re laughing at the disabled, blind, fat, deaf or what have you or with them. They’re laughing with them.
Jack Black is Hal, a man whose dying father (Bruce McGill) imparted words of wisdom to him on his deathbed at the age of nine, telling him to never ‘settle for average poon tang’ and always go for ‘hot young tail.’ Well you can imagine how that could fuck with someone’s head at that age and as such he grows up into a superficial snob who looks at women with skin deep lenses and has no use for anything but physical attraction. After he’s stuck in an elevator with self help guru Tony Robbins (self help guru Tony Robbins) and given a little hypnotic boost he can now only see inner beauty in anyone he looks at, and vice versa. When he meets three hundred pound Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow) he perceives a slim supermodel type while everyone around him can behold the real thing. It’s a tricky concept that you shouldn’t put too much thought into lest you think too hard and logic sets in but it’s a breezy film that is more interested in the implications of its concept rather than semantics.
Black is good enough in his first big time starring role and the Farrelly’s populate the film with an ever eclectic bunch of people like Joe Viterelli, Susan Ward, Kyle Gass and Jason Alexander as Hal’s asshole buddy who..ah… well I won’t spoil it but it’s a classic Farrelly sight gag. It’s actually Paltrow that grounds this thing though, the film has great compassion for her character despite ruthlessly making fun of her the whole time and like I said it’s a very fine line but it somehow works. She’s very aware of her weight, her situation and even cracks self deprecating jokes. She’s smart, funny, caring, compassionate and the film asks you to see those qualities set apart from her physical appearance. The best scene in the film sees Hal visit a children’s burn ward for the second time. Of course the first time he went he couldn’t see their obvious scars and as such treated them as he would any other adorable kid. When the spell Robbins put on him is lifted and he can see everything again a small girl who he played with last time approaches him and wonders why he hasn’t visited since. Of course he can see her scars now and doesn’t immediately recognize her, but when she reminds him of her name and he does… well it’s the sweetest, most honest moment of the film and hits the main point home hard. (Also the only time in any Farrelly film I’ve teared up by the way, but shhh). So the film has this irreverence that’s always there in their work, this cheerful aim to make fun of things you’re ‘not supposed to laugh’ at. Anything out there is to laugh at though and that’s just the way the world works. The film understands this as well as compassion, perspective, understanding, character while still being an off the wall, bonkers comedy and I loved it for that.
There’s Something About Mary, and there’s also just something about The Farrelly Brothers, something about the way they make bad taste seem passable and almost classy, something about how they make incredibly silly shit come across as utterly hilarious. This is a film that would never get made these days, it would get hounded out of the office halfway through the pitch, which is deliciously ironic when you consider that one of these two screwball directors nabbed an Oscar this past year for a film that couldn’t be a farther cry from stuff like this. There’s so much to laugh at here you barely get breaks in between, and while any hope of actual pathos crumbles in the face of relentless comic rumpus time, it never lags or slows down either. Ben Stiller is Ted, hapless sap who tracks down his old high school sweetheart Mary (Cameron Diaz) because he just can’t let her go. Only problem is, half the rest of the state falls for her too including ultra sleazy private eye Healy (Matt Dillon is a force of nature here) and others that I dare not spoil here. The plot is essentially really creepy and peppered with all kinds of questionable shit, but the visual gags, situational humour and just plain slapstick madness somehow work so well. Not to mention the cameos, including Jeffrey Tambor as Healy’s cokehead pal, Richard Jenkins as a therapist who’s bored out of his mind, Keith David as Mary’s gregarious stepfather and standup comic Harland Williams as the man with the seven minute abs idea. You couldn’t make this shit up, but the Farrellys somehow did and it’s one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen. Stiller is an inherently pesky actor you’re never sure if you should like or just be mad at simply for existing, but it works for the role here. Dillon uses that pithy, laconic drawl to maximum effect and I don’t think you could dream up a sleazier character if you tried. Diaz is a ray of pure sunshine in anything and she reaches the closest thing you could call to actual ‘acting’ that anyone gets to here, bringing a good natured sweetness that goes a long way. Scrotums caught in zippers, a dog on fire, a horde of disabled folks played for laughs, semen used as hair gel, a hacked up corpse in a gym bag, these are the down n’ dirty things the Farrellys peddle in, and when it comes to them, it’s only the finest from this duo. Between this, Dumb & Dumber and Me, Myself & Irene you kind of get a holy trinity of there distilled comedic aesthetic, one that remains hilarious to this day.
ScienceWorld once did a colourful exhibition called Grossology, in which various parts of human anatomy are presented in garish, cartoony displays. The Farrelly Brother’s Osmosis Jones reminds me quite a bit of that, an inspired, juvenile little creation that seems to have slipped through the cracks. Focusing on the human body, or rather one human body in the form of out of shape, sloppy schmuck Bill Murray, it’s one of those rare half live action, half animated flicks, a concept which I love but one that only works out if you do it right. It worked magic in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it train-wrecked in Rocky & Bullwinkle, and went more middle of the road in stuff like Cool World and The Pagemaster. Here it works pretty damn well, if a little better on the animated side, where most of the focus is put anyways. Murray is Frank, a walking disaster whose lifestyle reflects the culmination of the Farrelly’s career in terms of utmost vulgarity. Zooming inside his body, a sassy technicolor world emerges, sentient forces living in infrastructure not unlike our own, albeit peppered with so many delightful jokes, gags (some which will kick the reflex into action) and word-plays it’s hard to keep up. Chris Rock plays a lively white blood cell cop who responds when Frank eats a hard boiled egg that’s home to a deadly virus, and runs all about the City Of Frank chasing it down, joined by a robotic cherry flavoured Cold Pill (David Hyde Pierce). City Hall is Cerebellum Hall in the Brain, the bowels resemble skid row, Mafia bacteria thugs reside in the armpit, and you get the idea. The imagination runs wild here, if a little grotesque in areas. The live action bits suffer in terms of writing and realism, they just feel like a queasy SNL skit and never have enough weight. It’s non stop fun when the animation kicks in though, a slightly off-Disney style that stimulates the screen visually and pops with every colour combination you can imagine. My favourite has to be Laurence Fishburne as Thrax, the deadly virus attacking Frank’s nervous system, a gangly, evil eyed freak who sports purple dreadlocks, a contagious Freddy Krueger style index finger and enjoys his job a bit too much. William Shatner is great as sleazy Mayor Phlemming too. It’s not as much fun as stuff like InnerSpace, and the live action clashes with the animated world in places where it should seamlessly mesh, but it has one admirable quality in spades: imagination. The jokes and ideas within Frank’s body are hurled at you a mile a minute, and you’d need to watch it at least twice to catch every little barb and dad-joke worthy pun. Good times.