Sunday 17 November 2019

Movie Review: There's Something About Mary (1998)

A raunchy comedy, There's Something About Mary aims for wild over-the-top laughs and remarkably hits the target more often than not.

It's 1985 in Rhode Island, and awkward high school student Ted (Ben Stiller) secures a prom date with the seemingly unattainable dream classmate Mary (Cameron Diaz). But the big night is scuttled by an embarrassing zipper mishap. Thirteen years later, Ted decides to try and find Mary, and  encouraged by his friend Dom (Chris Elliott) hires sleazy insurance investigator Pat (Matt Dillon) who promptly locates her in Miami.

Mary is now a successful orthopedic surgeon, a sports lover and still single. Pat falls in love with his surveillance target and pursues her romantically, pretending to be a free-spirited architect. Mary's friend Tucker (Lee Evans) also harbours a crush and senses Pat's lies. Eventually Ted and Dom also make their way to Miami where Mary will find herself surrounded by numerous men professing their love.

Two epic scenes of abject raunchiness ensure the lasting notoriety of There's Something About Mary. The first is the prom night zipper fiasco at Mary's home, a scene as funny as it is physically uncomfortable for half the world's population. The second occurs when Ted and Mary finally have their reunion, and involves bodily fluids showing up in all the wrong places. Both sequences burst through any notional limits of decency, but land with hilarity intact and in the process define new limits of bawdiness.

Co-written and directed by brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the film takes big swings at the conventions of both the high school teenage comedy and romantic comedies. The first act features Stiller and Diaz made up to look like teenaged versions of themselves, and lays the groundwork for a lifetime of infatuation. Young Ted is a living example of a painfully uncoordinated high school persona, and the luminous young Mary is the too-good-to-be-true new school arrivee who is believed to be elusive but is actually surprisingly empathetic.

The rest of the movie occurs in the present day and thrives on shredding the misunderstandings, pets, neighbors, best friends and rivals that collectively create the foundational elements of any rom-com. The Farrellys' motto is to push bad taste as far as it goes and then a bit more, and they intentionally veer off-course in many scenes, including actively seeking laughs at the expense of Tucker's physical challenge in using crutches.

For anything about There's Something About Mary to function, the ultimate fantasy woman as imagined by juvenile males has to be created, and the Farrellys hit the jackpot with Cameron Diaz. She brings to life a dream combination of the sexy, approachable, sports-and-beer loving gal who happens to be professionally successful, single, charitable, and dedicated to helping her mentally challenged brother. She is more than a bit naive to fall for creeps and not be aware of the impact she has on men, but Cameron thrives in radiating the character's energy at the epicenter of the film.

Stiller as the adult Ted is a relatively reserved presence, and it is Matt Dillon as the sleazoid Pat who bursts through with a memorably off-center performance, combining stalker behaviour with carefully constructed manipulation.

A milestone in coarse humour, There's Something About Mary is supremely good when it's very bad.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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