90's-vember: There's Something About Mary (1998) - Can't Stop the Movies
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90’s-vember: There’s Something About Mary (1998)

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For a comedy to have any sort of shelf life, it has to work on the big and small levels.  One can’t throw a film out there with huge joke after huge joke but nothing else and expect it to stand the test of time.  The comedies that are remembered five, ten, twenty years down the line are the ones with characters the viewer cares for, an energy that can’t be beat, or a film written, acted and performed so well that someone can find something new to marvel and laugh at the second, fifth and tenth time watching the film.

Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters and Anchorman all have some of these qualities and I would put There’s Something About Mary in the same category.

Nineties comedy, in part, has to be remembered as being the height of the Farrelly Brothers’ power and popularity.  One can’t talk about the decade without mentioning them.  Their career started with the 1994 Jim Carrey film, Dumb and Dumber, which was funnier and smarter than it had any right to be. They followed that film up with Kingpin, which is hilarious and has one of the greatest supporting performances for Bill Murray.

But Kingpin was also a bomb, so when Mary was being released, there were not high hopes for the film.  It stars Cameron Diaz (who also got her big break with Jim Carrey back in The Mask), Matt Dillon, and Ben Stiller; three people who while liked were not very big draws at the box office. To make matters worse, the film was released with one of the worst previews ever. This trailer was cheesy, badly made and did not look funny at all. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself.

Without a huge star (at that time) and an awful marketing campaign, the movie underperformed its first weekend, opening at number 4,and people wrote it off as another bust for the directing duo that started out so promising.  Then a funny thing happened: the people who saw the movie told their friends to see it who told their friends and the movie kept making money week after week.  By its 7th weekend, it finally reached number 1 and made more that week than the week before.  At the end, There’s Something About Mary was the 3rd biggest hit of the year and made the Farrellys the next big comedy directors.

If one would have asked me what I loved so much about the film after that first showing, I would have mentioned the most obvious scenes to rave about.  I would have talked about the “Beans above the Frank”, the hair gel, the dog on speed etc…  These scenes were the showstoppers, they were the big gags and they did what the aimed to do brilliantly, making the scenes funny and unforgettable.

But like I said earlier, a movie can’t live on showstopping moments alone.  So, I popped the film in the DVD player again after many years and during the viewing I didn’t notice the big gags all that much but I really honed in on what was happening during the quieter scenes.  Surprisingly, I realized that I might actually find these moments funnier and a special shout out has to go out to Matt Dillon, who stole the movie from other actors much better known for comedy.

Matt Dillon was not worried about looking dumb in this film.

How does this film exemplify the 90's

  • A reference to 8 minute abs.
  • Brett Farve cameo appearance from when he was still the "Golden Boy"

What makes this my pick?

One of the big reasons I like this film so much is I could only think of two things that really date the movie. I didn't realize this, but the picture is kind of timeless.  Of course you could tell that the film was made in the 90's but that is from an aesthetic frame of mind.  The film does nothing to really date itself.  The Farrellys have been known to use music from popular bands in their films (Deadeye Dick in Dumb and Dumber and Blues Traveler in Kingpin), but here they have a troubadour serenading the audience with original music.

The film kept away from dating itself (except for the 8 Minute Abs) with references and the like. The movie exists in its own little universe of weird people and places and that has kept the movie from being timestamped in a certain era.   Ironically, the film was so popular and captured the attention of American audiences for half a summer, it has become one of the comedies most associated with the decade.

As funny as the film is,the characters are really what make this film stay as fresh in 2011 as it was in 1998.  The Farrelly Brothers might populate their films with a bunch of characters you wouldn't want to be trapped in a room with, but they also portray them in such a way one can’t help but kind of like them. Dillion's Pat Healy might be a horrible man but one still falls under his goofy charm.  Ted (Ben Stiller) is a walking catastrophe but one still wants to see him end up with the girl in the end, but the biggest feat of the film made was making Mary into something truly special.

My favorite scene in the film.

The movie had a tightrope to walk because the whole premise of the film was about how this woman was so special that all men who encounter her fall deeply in love with her.  It is easy enough to cast an attractive woman and make all men be attracted to her, but Mary went beyond that.  As Ted says late in the movie, Mary makes them feel better about themselves so the Farrelleys couldn’t hire just any woman and call it a day.  Thankfully, they get a bubbly, sweet and sexy performance out of Cameron Diaz that made the viewer realize why the men not only want to get her in bed but also take her home to mom. 

If any of these characters didn’t work perfectly, the movie wouldn’t have worked.  If Healy would have been a little sleazier, we wouldn’t want to follow him around through the movie.  If Ted would have been just a bit more pathetic, no one would have rooted or cared if he got the girl.  If Mary was just some sexy T&A it wouldn’t have made sense that ALL men go crazy for her.  Yet the Farrleys balance the characters just right to make it a perfect concoction.

If there was a definitive list of 90’s comedies, There’s Something About Mary would be near the top of that list.   The picture of Diaz with her hair sticking straight up became not just a snapshot of 1998 but of comedies and of the decade.  Thanks to the sharp writing, deft direction and charismatic performances, the film has aged better than many from this decade.

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Posted by Ryan

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