There's Something More About Mary (1998)

Cynthia Fuchs

It's easy to deride the Farrellys' work, to dismiss their brand of humor or their dogged efforts to be 'politically incorrect.' Still, they serve more substantive functions than dosing 12-year-old boys with chickens-up-the-butt jokes.

There's Something More About Mary

Director: Bobby Farrelly
Cast: Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lin Shaye, Lee Evans, W. Earl Brown
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Display Artist: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
First date: 1998
US DVD Release Date: 2003-07-01

There's no one who does overkill quite like the Farrelly brothers. Just so, the newest version of the DVD of There's Something About Mary, There's Something More About Mary, doubles up the extras, even adding occasional five-years-later commentary by Peter and Bob, on top of the year-after commentary that came with the first DVD release, in 1999. As they put it at the start of the DVD: "We're gonna pop in now and then with sorta updated remarks"

Just why another version of There's Something About Mary (after 2000's "Special Edition") is a good idea right this instant is anyone's guess (aside from the obvious profits motive and the tie-in with Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, with Cameron's $20 million buzz). And yet, Mary's lingering appeal is undeniable. The Farrellys' work before and after is measured against this film, which cemented their best-loved formula: lovely girl among idiots (granted, whenever they cast Jim Carrey, the "idiots" factor tends to overwhelm the "lovely girl"). Here, of course, Diaz shines, her good-sporty charisma as bright and brilliant as it's ever going to be.

This plot -- as most everyone knows -- follows hapless Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) as he falls forever in love with his perky, do-gooding Rhode Island high school classmate, the perfect Mary Jenson (Diaz). Their first date is aborted when poor Ted catches his penis in his zipper (in one of the film's memorably cringe-inducing moments, the semen-as-hair-gel being another). From there, the film cuts ahead 13 years, when Ted hires a private dick, Pat Healy (Matt Dillon with overbite) to find Mary, where she's living in Miami. Healy falls in love with her himself, and lies to Ben ("She's a whale"), in order to keep her for himself. Once Ben decides to go find her anyway, he learns he has lots of competition, including Healy, Ted's buddy Dom (Chris Elliot), Brett Favre, and Tucker (Lee Evans), a local pizza delivery boy pretending to be a British architect on crutches in order to win her heart.

In "Backstory," one of the second disk's several featurettes, bobby says simply, "It's a stalking movie." It is. But Ted the stalker is so inept and has such a good heart that the film's mix of "bad taste and heartwarming" elements (as Stiller describes it) allows viewers to sympathize, if not quite identify. Though now, another Ted is unimaginable, Peter observes that Stiller was not their first choice (they think they asked Owen Wilson, but can't really recall who else). And this, Peter says, is why "We never worry about casting. It just always works out. We worry about a lot of things making a movie but casting isn't one of them. It just seems like it's in the hands of the gods. We've never gotten the people we've wanted and it's just always worked out."

This seems especially true for this film, and Bob observes as well why Stiller might not have seemed like an obvious choice: "Incidentally, Ben Stiller had done some real hipster movies before this, Reality Bites and that kind of stuff, which were kind of about being cool. And so, he really did throw the ego out the window with this one; he was very easy to work with and he made himself look as dumb as we asked him to. And I think that's why people fell so much in love with his character, because he really was ego-free." He really was, wasn't he?

The first connection between Ted and Mary comes through her mentally handicapped brother, Warren (W. Earl Brown), whom Ted defends from a school bully. During an early scene where Warren rides Ted like a horse, Bob offers this explanation of their use of Warren as plot device: "A lot of people have asked us, 'When you put mentally challenged people in a movie, aren't you making fun of 'em?' We always felt that in real life, they probably have trials and tribulations, and Ben's character, Ted here, stuck up for him, and he really likes him, as does Mary. So we didn't think there was anything wrong with what we were doing." At which point Pete adds, "And the opinions expressed by Bob are solely his own." At which point Bob snickers.

The brothers surely have a rhythm, in their filmmaking no less than in their commentary-making. They range from remembering the very sad life of player Tony Conigliaro to cracking wise over the unused claymation titles. They do tend to repeat themselves, pointing out their "terrific" actors (from Brown to Diaz, Chris Elliot to Lin Shaye as Magda, Mary's landlady and Puffy's mom), or the "tremendous" bands on the soundtrack (Jonathan Richman as the chorus, Ivy, The Suns). But many of their observations consist of their wholly remarkable total recall of the name of every person who's in the film, even for a second, from crewmember to speaking extra to childhood friend from Providence with a walk-on.

Much as you might expect, given how simultaneously dizzy and intricate their films are, the Farrellys are self-conscious, smart, and self-critical (more than once, they note a gag they now think doesn't work, or point out their rudimentary approach to filmmaking). On working as brothers, they claim their first models are the Zuckers, and pay homage to the Coens and Hughes. ON actual practice, Bob says, "I position myself more at the monitor so I can see what we're filming... Whereas Pete is a little bit closer to the action because actors like that, they like to have a guy right there.... Between every take, we get together and discuss where we think we're going and what we need to do. One or the other will go talk to the actor but not both because it can be overwhelming." He also notes the effect a team can have in production decisions: "Because there's two of 'em, they're more able to protect the vision they had originally. In a way, your movie's more likely to get watered down."

Aside from the business angle, they also talk about writing: Pete notes that they seek to take their films in directions that haven't been taken before. "We never know what's going to happen in a screenplay. We want the possibility that anything could happen," he says. "You gotta leave it wide open, and then let the story where it wants to go." Bob adds, "Otherwise, don't you kind of know, 15 minutes into a movie, what's going to happen? We like to really have the wild card where anything could happen." As an example, they point to their efforts to muck up the last scene in Mary's apartment, where all the guys appear to claim her hand. Though the Farrellys agree that there's no way she'd end up with Healy, Dom, or Tucker, there is a chance she'd go with Brett Favre, because "everyone knows him."

In addition to the movie disk (which features a commentary track by the original screenplay writers Ed Decter and John L. Strauss as well as that by the Farrellys), the new DVD includes a second disk full of uneven documentaries and tidbits. The 44-minute "Getting Behind Mary" features on-set "video diary" scenes alongside interviews with Dillon, Stiller, and Diaz, who mostly recall how much fun they had making the film, and how brave Shaye was to stay in character while Puffy slurpy-licked her mouth.

In "Franks & Beans: A conversation with W. Earl Brown," he talks all about how he came up with Warren's head-rolling, gestures, and awkward walk. In "Touchdown: A Conversation with Brett Favre," he explains, sweetly, of course, how he's often remembered for his 30 seconds in There's Something About Mary ("And I say, 'Well, we gotta always be remembered for something'"). "Behind the Zipper" is a clunky faux documentary narrated by Lin Shaye, about the zipper escapade ("It could happen to anyone"), including faux interviews with the guy who played the paramedic, an emergency doctor, and what Shaye terms a 'pee-pee doctor." As Shaye observes, the doc takes you "behind the scenes, so you can see what happened in Mary's bathroom." It's not so funny as it probably seemed on set.

Extras lifted from other sources include "Comedy Central's Reel Comedy: There's Something About Mary," which considers the production and casting history (info already covered by the brothers on their track); and "Best Fight: Ben Stiller and Puffy the Dog" is from the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, when Stiller shows a fake "behind the scenes" film about how the fight blue-screened. The liveliest featurette is "Up a Tree with Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkins," which features observations by the "ex-punk" (whatever that means) musicians who serve as chorus for the film.

It's easy to deride the Farrellys' work, to dismiss their brand of humor or their dogged efforts to be "politically incorrect." Still, they serve more substantive functions than dosing 12-year-old boys with chickens-up-the-butt jokes. That's not to say that Mary is valuable or even interesting just for being at once vulgar and touching (the usual defense of it), but that it expresses what seems a healthy anxiety about and skepticism of standard romance. And it hardly matters whether or not Pete and Bob had this in mind.

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