In the late 1990s, it looked as if the Farrelly brothers were the next big thing in Hollywood comedy. First came the bizarrely braindead Dumb and Dumber then the more intelligent yet equally weird Kingpin, both of which made decent amounts of money and built up keen fanbases that adore them to this day. But the real clincher was 1998’s There’s Something About Mary – one of the most influential comedies of the decade.
Where both Kingpin and Dumb and Dumber made much of the kind of humour that has since been dubbed “gross-out”, it was There’s Something About Mary which first demonstrated to Hollywood that it could be put to good use in films with a far wider appeal. Because although the first two Farrelly films did well at the box office – the first largely thanks to the presence of Jim Carrey, the second doing less well but earning a good amount through video and DVD rentals – There’s Something About Mary was a massive hit. One of those rare sleepers, the studio may initially have been wary but the public loved it. Through word of mouth it just kept on making more cash, finally pulling in nine times its budget in the US alone after a cinema run that lasted a remarkable seven months.
Pretty soon, Hollywood saw that it had a phenomenon on its hands. A film in which the most memorable scene involved bodily fluids never previously mentioned in a mainstream movie became the model for pretty much every “edgy” comedy of the last decade, from American Pie through to the current likes of Superbad and Knocked Up, where shock value lies at the core of the humour.
Yet after There’s Something About Mary, the Farrelly brothers’ store of inventiveness seemed to run dry. With the likes of split-personality comedy Me, Myself Irene and Siamese twin comedy Stuck on You, the wilful offensiveness of the premise was not joined by any particular humour. The partially-animated comedy Osmosis Jones gained a cult following but poor reviews, while the Americanised remake of Fever Pitch, based on the Nick Hornby novel, was no more than an utterly standard lightweight romantic comedy.
So now, reuniting with Mary star Ben Stiller, they’re setting out to recapture some of the spirit of their finest hour. But, of course, ten years on the same dating-based angle could seem a little bit, well, sad. After all, Stiller’s now in his forties – while ten years ago he could get away with playing someone a bit younger who was still on the dating scene, these days it would be a bit pathetic to see a man his age still acting like a teenager, no matter how funny he may be while doing it.
As such, while There’s Something About Mary revolved around dating, The Heartbreak Kid focuses on the rather more grown up institution of marriage – with Stiller’s singleton, much like his audience, coming to realise that he’s a bit old for all that dating nonsense and that it’s time to settle down. Which is, of course, one of the worst possible reasons to get married – as he finds to his cost on his honeymoon, as his new bride turns out to be a head-case just as he meets the woman of his dreams.
Is the end result as good as There’s Something About Mary? Well, no – but then that is a modern classic, after all. The Heartbreak Kid is, however, a welcome shift back in the right direction for the Farrellys – it may lack much of the inventiveness of their earlier films, but with Stiller on his typical good form and some fun slapstick antics chucked in, it’s still a better than average romantic comedy with a nicely modern twist.