The fine art of gross-out gags Filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly like to think they're just presenting jokes with 'There's Something About Mary,' but insiders are calling them 'auteurs.'


August 09, 1998|By David Kronke | David Kronke,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The money shot in "There's Something About Mary" - well, actually, the first of many that declare these are the filmmakers who will take gross-out gags into the next millennium - is, by co-director and writer Peter Farrelly's own admission, "just stunningly inappropriate."

Peter's brother and collaborator, Bobby Farrelly, recalls with pride the moment when an executive from 20th Century Fox, the studio releasing "Mary," told him that a particular punch line was "perfectly reprehensible."

"There's Something About Mary," a romantic comedy on its way to becoming the summer's sleeper hit, is brought to you by the guys who made "Dumb and Dumber" - which found Jeff Daniels at the mercy of powerful laxatives and an even more powerful sound-effects editor - and "Kingpin," in which Woody Harrelson spat out a brutal parody of the "Got Milk?" ads.

Those were films dismissed by women and excoriated by some critics as, as Peter puts it, "pretty much the end of mankind." But inappropriateness and reprehensibility notwithstanding, their latest opened to rave reviews and even inspired a woman at a recent screening to laud it as "cute."

Cameron Diaz stars as Mary, every guy's ideal. In addition to the usual beauty and smarts, she also loves beer, beer nuts and sports. Ted (Ben Stiller), a nebbishy nice guy who hasn't seen her since a decidedly disastrous prom night a dozen years back, decides to try to find her, enlisting the aid of a dubious private detective (Matt Dillon), who decides to take her for himself. And one or two or three other guys are interested in her, with sundry levels of unhealthiness.

Basically, this is a wacky com-edy about stalkers. And we haven't even mentioned the dog-in-flames, the handicap and serial-killer jokes and the seminal fluid gag, which will become a seminal moment in raunch-humor history.

"There was a moment when I had to get on a prison cot with a big, fat guy where I asked myself, 'What am I doing here? What have I sunk to?' " admits Stiller, whose character is submitted to the film's most hilariously abjectindignities. "But I knew that if anyone could pull off these jokes, it was them. They're confident that what they're doing is funny, there's never any question. They're audacious, their obsession is with making the audience laugh."

"Critics ask us, how do you get away with this? But we've never gotten a letter," says Peter. "People are savvier than critics give them credit for.

"The other thing is, Ben's the hero, Ben doesn't set the dog on fire, he doesn't insult [Mary's mentally challenged] brother, he stands up for the brother. Matt Dillon's the bad guy, he does that stuff." Indeed, the Farrellys know they're not supposed to show the kinds of atrocities they do, and that's precisely what makes them funny.

Peter says they have friends with some of the handicaps depicted in the film, and it was made with them in mind. A bit part, a cantankerous character in a wheelchair, is actually played by a wheelchair-bound pal of the Farrellys who was tired of seeing people in wheelchairs portrayed in movies as sweet and lovable.

Peter and Bobby hung out as altogether unremarkable kids in Cumberland, R.I. (they still maintain homes on the East Coast), with no aspirations for filmmaking or, it seems, virtually anything else. "It would've taken effort to be the class clown," Bobby says with a shrug.

They weren't much good in their sales jobs, either, but luck was with them. When Peter moved to Los Angeles in 1985, it wasn't long before he had a development deal with a writing partner. Bobby was editing their scripts, and finally, he was invited out to become part of the process.

"We did 15 development deals before 'Dumb and Dumber' was made," Peter says. "The whole time I was out here, I never didn't have a job, I was constantly employed. We didn't exactly rough it. It wasn't a smashing success, but we were out playing golf, hanging out, living OK.

"But it was getting a little nerve-racking after nine years because you're like, 'How long can this go on? How many people will hire us to do scripts and none get made?'"

"Dumb and Dumber," pitched to them by a powerful producer who said, 'I want to do a movie about two dumb guys who go to Aspen,' changed everything. (That description was enough to get a film made? Both Farrellys laugh and, simultaneously, say, "With this guy, yeah.")

That producer eventually left the project, which wound up at New Line with the white-hot Jim Carrey interested. Peter says, "The studio said, 'Who's directing it?' and his answer, delivered very sheepishly, was us."

Their styleless directing style suits their material. "We never think of any swooping camera moves," admits Bobby. "But the director of photography likes to do that, so we sort of go along with him, let him do it, then cut it out in the end." The brothers laugh.

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