Retro Film Review: There's Something About Mary (1998)


In 1990s Hollywood was slowly becoming prudish and stuff like sex and violence began to disappear from the big screen. The only area where the film makers were still able to shock the audience was comedy. Comedies were never supposed to be taken seriously and, therefore, their content could hardly have any potentially harmful influence on the viewers and real world. Spared from censorship, 1990s Hollywood comedies were becoming raunchier and raunchier, always trying to push the boundaries of acceptable on-screen content. Two film makers who exploited this freedom to its fullest were brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly. Their 1998 film There's Something About Mary became one of the most successful and most influential films of the genre that would later become known as "gross out comedy".

The film begins in 1985 with Ted Stroehmann (played by Ben Stiller), geeky high school student whose dream comes true when angelic Mary Jensen Matthews (played by Cameron Diaz) chooses him to become her prom date. What was supposed to be the best night of Ted's life turns into absolute disaster due to painful and humiliating accident. Thirteen years later Ted still can't get Mary out of his head and, with the advice of his friend Dom (played by Chris Elliott), decides to find Mary with the help of private investigator Pat Healy (played by Matt Dillon). Healy takes the job, finds Mary in Florida, immediately falls in love with her and decides to cheat his client. While Mary experiences many strange events caused by Healy's unconventional seduction techniques, Ted becomes suspicious of detective's honesty and decides to come to Florida himself.

There's Something About Mary is best remembered for the scene which finally established certain bodily fluid as the legitimate content of mainstream Hollywood movies. This scene isn't the only one to challenge the notion of good taste in 1990s American cinema - the scene in the film's prologue also brings new definition of "toilet humour" with the gag that strikes perfect balance between humour and sadism. Those and other scenes are so effective that even those critics unfriendly to Farrellys and their brand of humour had to admit that they laughed hard while watching. Those two scenes, however, aren't the reason why There's Something About Mary became one of the most successful comedies of 1990s Hollywood.

The real reason could be found in very good script (co-authored with Ed Decter and John J. Strauss) which successfully brought all that gross-out and "politically incorrect" humour into the genre frame of romantic comedy. Furthermore, characters, no matter how pathetic theyact or look, are presented as real human beings with whom audience can empathise. This is the work of the excellent ensemble cast. The greatest discovery is, of course, Cameron Diaz who had already shown that she could handle romantic comedy by wiping the floor with Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding. Here she radiates beauty, humanity and humour and protagonist's (and everyone else's) infatuation with her character is easily understandable. Another pleasant surprise comes in the form of Matt Dillon who also exploited rare opportunity for purely comedic role. Ben Stiller and Chris Elliott are also good, as well as Farelly's old associate Lin Shaye in the memorable role of Mary's friend Magda. The most charming role belongs to musician Johnathan Richman as this film's version of Greek Chorus.

Of course, not all jokes in this film work and the humour is definitely not for everyone. But There's Something About Mary is more than groundbreaking film. It also represents two very entertaining hours - something that Hollywood comedies these days fail to deliver to the audience, with or without references to certain bodily fluids.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on April 26th 2004)

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