Ace of base

With Dumb and Dumber and There’s Some­thing About Mary, the Far­relly Brothers in­vented the gross-out com­edy genre. But their new movie sug­gests the bod­ily-fluid hu­morists might have turned re­spectable. Never, Bobby Far­relly tells Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

SHOULD we be sur­prised that Bobby and Peter Far­relly turn out to be scrupu­lously neat, mid­dle-class boys from Rhode Is­land? Not re­ally. Films such as Dumb and Dumber, There’s Some­thing About Mary and King­pin may con­tain mo­ments of un­par­al­leled deca­dence – re­pro­duc­tive fluid in the hair; pink bits trapped in zip­pers – but the boys’ work has al­ways in­cor­po­rated a sen­ti­men­tal, con­ven­tion­ally moral un­der­cur­rent that speaks of a sub­ur­ban up­bring­ing.

Sure enough, it tran­spires that Bobby Far­relly – at 49, a year older than Peter – has lovely teeth, tidy hair and a fa­ther who was a suc­cess­ful doc­tor. One won­ders how Dr and Mrs Far­relly re­acted when their sons an­nounced their de­ci­sion to make a liv­ing out of film­ing bod­ily flu­ids.

“I think ul­ti­mately they were re­lieved that we were do­ing any­thing at all sub­stan­tial,” he laughs. “They wrote us off as ne’erdo-wells at an early age. We had been up in LA, but noth­ing had got­ten made. I think they thought we were book­mak­ers or what­ever. Then they turn up on the first day of shoot­ing Dumb and Dumber and we are talk­ing to Jeff Daniels. He’s sit­ting on the toi­let and we’re shout­ing: ‘Big­ger! Big­ger!’ They then re­alised this was a real job.”

In the 13 years since Dumb and Dumber first peed all over the box-of­fice, the Far­rellys have ce­mented a rep­u­ta­tion as world lead­ers in the hu­mour of emis­sions. Yet, in re­cent years, one be­gins to sense a lean­ing to­wards re­spectabil­ity. The Per­fect Catch, their fit­ful base­ball-themed adap­ta­tion of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, fea­tured lit­tle to dis­gust even the most prim of maiden aunts. The Heart­break Kid, the boys’ up­dat­ing of an Elaine May 1972 com­edy, does in­clude mildly dis­turb­ing scenes con­cern­ing de­vi­ated septa and hir­sute pu­denda, but no­body is go­ing to mis­take it for the ter­rif­i­cally gross King­pin. I won­der if they feel pres­sure from Far­relly en­thu­si­asts to in­clude gross-out mo­ments.

“No, not at all,” Bobby in­sists. “We don’t play to the Far­relly en­thu­si­asts par­tic­u­larly. We just dowhat we think is funny. I un­der­stand we are mak­ing jokes where girls put sperm in their hair and peo­ple think that’s re­ally gross. But we al­ways show the scene to an au­di­ence and if they laugh it stays in. If it just grosses them out, then the scene goes.”

Any film aca­demic con­sid­er­ing a pa­per on the Evo­lu­tion of At­ti­tudes to Sex in Con­tem­po­rary Com­edy may wish to com­pare the orig­i­nal ver­sion of The Heart­break Kid with the Far­rellys’ take. Fol­low­ing ner­vous Ben Stiller as he drifts away from his new wife while still on hon­ey­moon, the new film is, un­sur­pris­ingly, more ex­plicit in its de­pic­tion of the sex­ual act, but, un­like the ear­lier flick, does not have any truck with the an­ar­chic sex­ual lib­er­tar­i­an­ism that briefly flour­ished in the early 1970s.

“Yes, that is in­ter­est­ing,” he says. “It is one of those movies we both liked, but it is an off­beat movie. He left a rather unattrac­tive girl for a su­per­model and the su­per­model was re­ally cool about the fact that he was on hon­ey­moon. Nowa­days that would make her a so­ciopath, so we changed it so that he doesn’t tell her he’s on hon­ey­moon. Also, if he left the wife just be­cause she was less at­trac­tive that would make him a cad. We changed it so that the su­per­model fig­ure is the wife.”

You can see what I mean about the Far­rellys be­ing tra­di­tional moral­ists at heart. The best of their hu­mour re­mains, none­the­less, fu­ri­ously low­brow and pur­pose­fully ap­palling. No­body should be sur­prised to learn that they are cur­rently work­ing on a fea­ture ver­sion of The Three Stooges.

Twenty years ago, when Bobby and Peter started out as com­edy writ­ers, the school of dis­gust­ing slap­stick they so adore was, how­ever, ter­mi­nally un­fash­ion­able. Though they did re­ceive a credit on the well-re­mem­bered Vir­gin episode of Se­in­feld, pro­duc­ers and fi­nanciers sim­ply re­fused to ac­cept there was a mar­ket for the team’s bril­liant id­iocy.

“What changed it all was our say­ing we were go­ing to di­rect Dumb and Dumber our­selves,” Bobby ex­plains. “It is quite hard to find some­one to di­rect a film when you have no money and no back­ing. We thought: we can fig­ure out how to do this our­selves. Sud­denly peo­ple said oh, this script has a di­rec­tor. It must be a real movie.”

Fol­low­ing Jeff Daniels and Jim Car­rey as they barfed and farted their way across the US, Dumb and Dumber proved to be an en­tirely un­ex­pected smash and, to the dis­gust of many, man­aged to ac­ci­den­tally in­vent a whole new genre. With­out the Far­rellys there would be no Amer­i­can Pie, no Fred­die Got Fin­gered. The Gross-Out Com­edy is their unlovely cre­ation. When, in There’s Some­thing About Mary, the boys put some­thing un­pleas­ant in Cameron Diaz’s fringe, the move­ment had its iconic im­age.

“We never imag­ined we had cre­ated a genre,” Bobby says. “One out of four peo­ple might be grossed out by this stuff, but the rest find it funny. And we just want to do what’s funny.”

This is the sec­ond time he has put for­ward this slightly disin­gen­u­ous ar­gu­ment. Surely the two re­ac­tions are in­ex­tri­ca­bly in­ter­twined. Those­who find the sperm-inthe-hair scene amus­ing do so pre­cisely be­cause it’s dis­gust­ing. “Maybe, but we never set out de­lib­er­ately to break th­ese ta­boos. We are never look­ing around for new bar­ri­ers to break down.”

Fair enough. But as they grow older they may, per­haps, en­counter the de­sire to be taken a lit­tle more se­ri­ously. (Peter has, it should be noted, writ­ten a cou­ple of nov­els.) Am I right?

“Oh no, not at all,” Bobby says. “We have no de­sire what­so­ever in that di­rec­tion. The world is in a tough state right now. If you can get peo­ple to laugh their heads off that’s good enough. We don’t want to make some great state­ment.”

Gross point blank: Bobby Far­relly (be­low), di­rec­tor of The Heart­break Kid star­ring Ben Stiller and Malin Ak­er­man (left and right, main pic­ture)

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