“Is it the frank or the beans?”
We see the set-up – something so outrageous — and it doesn’t stop. Everything up until this moment has been raunchy –– but you laugh. We all enjoy bathroom humor at some point in our lives – and this is taking it to the max with performers who are up for anything. Mary is showing up to her date with Ted, and heeding advice from his friend, he decides to relax himself in the bathroom. When he opens the door to greet her, she thinks the liquid peculiarly dangling from his ear is hair gel – and she gamely grabs it for she mentions she ran out of it. But the directors Peter and Bobby Farrely are not content with leaving it there. In the next scene – they up the ante – and the two main characters have a conversation at a bar with her hair defiantly held up by the fluid. I have seen “There’s Something About Mary” (1998) a few times now – and during that scene I’m screaming with laughter so loud that I honestly cannot tell you what the conversation is all about. Cameron Diaz is so spunkily brilliant in this – playing it straight and recalling classic comediennes like Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert who were put in audacious situations – but never in one quite like this. It is one of the most uproarious moments in cinema.
It works because the writer/directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly are always having such a great time wanting us to laugh. Things get crude, but they never get mean spirited, and the movie is an equal opportunity offender. What does keep it from becoming something vulgar or tasteless is that there’s a sweetness underneath it – and a fondness for its characters. Their rambunctiousness is contagious – and seeing how far they’re willing to go with their outre situations is part of the fun. It reminds me in a way of the style with which Hitchcock handles suspense – stretching their audiences’ comfort level. There’s something to be said about the therapeutic release of laughter. When I sat with my accomplice to watch “There’s Something About Mary” the other night, we both had been having quite a stressful day – and it was just so cathartic to let it loose.
It all starts with nerdy Ted in high school in Providence, Rhode Island having a crush on Mary but knowing that she will never go for him with his armored mouth of braces. Besides, she’s going to the prom with Woogie, a jock from another school, only it turns out that they broke up and Mary asks Ted to be her date. On the most important night of his young life – he shows up to her house – needs to use the bathroom but gets his zipper caught on an unfortunate body part. (See the line quoted at the top!) The Farrellys plum every nook and cranny of this happenstance. “She’s a dental hygienist she’ll know exactly what to do,” says Mary’s stepfather as he ushers his wife into the bathroom. Soon from the window pops in a cop in a situation that is almost like a Mister Rogers setting, saying, “Neighbors say they heard a lady scream.” It will all boil to firefighters and paramedics showing up, “We got a bleeder.”
Fast forward 13 years later, and Ted is still traumatized about that evening. His therapist – played with easygoing comic timing by a then-unknown Richard Jenkins – is bored of hearing about it. Mary left town soon after that incident – and Ted never heard from her again. He makes the mistake of following the advice of a good friend and hires the worst possible detective to find out where Mary is. Pencil thin mustachoed and sleazily creepy Pat Healey (played with gusto by Matt Dillon) finds her in Miami – falls in love with her – and tells Ted that she’s moved to Japan. He intends to make a move on Mary himself using all of the private information he got by wiretapping and snooping on her – making himself into her ideal man. There are a myriad of characters that make memorable impressions. There’s Mary’s overly tanned – chain-smoking – neighborhood watcher Magda who owns a dog – Puffer – who will eventually need mouth to mouth resuscitation – a lamp’s electrical chord as defibrillator — and will be pumped with speed. Mary will eventually have four suitors after her, including Brett Favre – and Ted will make his way down to her. On his drive down, he will pick up a hitchhiker who will turn out to be a serial killer and will mistakenly lead Ted to unknowingly confess to 25 to 50 murders in a police interrogation scene that is written and acted with great comedic precision. Ben Stiller is a trooper and charming in this. There are at least five moments in this movie in which I can’t contain myself. I also admire the way that the Farrellys build their foundation – give us bits of information – and work their way toward big pay-offs later.
The merriment continues with the closing credits that have got to be some of the most feel good and satisfying ones – watching all the different supporting players from the first scene to the last end this romp by breaking out into song – The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup.”
Ted : “Look, I didn’t solicit any sex, OK? This is a huge misunderstanding. I was really going out to pee, I was walking to the bushes, I tripped over this guy – and suddenly all those cops and their helicopters…”
Detective Stabler : “Ted, Ted, it’s OK, we believe you. The problem is we found your friend in the car.”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and to rent on Redbox, Microsoft, Apple TV, DIRECTV, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, FandangoNOW and Vudu.
Screenplay by Ed Decter, John J. Strauss, Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly
Starring Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller, Lee Evans and Chris Elliott
Bringing “There’s Something About Mary” to the Screen
In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked “Mary” No. 27 on its list of the 100 greatest American comedies, between “Being There” and “Ghostbusters.” “That’s good company,” beams Bobby Farrelly, who along with his brother Peter co-wrote and directed the film that ushered in a new era of R-rated comedies. At the time, PG-13 comedies like “Dr. Dolittle” — released that summer two weeks before “Mary” — were more the norm. “There hadn’t been an R-rated comedy in a long time,” Bobby said in a phone interview from Vancouver where he and Peter are filming the TV series “Loudermilk.” “We wanted to do something more for adults. We weren’t going to hold back. ‘Animal House’ was a movie we loved growing up. The jokes those guys were willing to attempt is what motivated us.” Bradley Thomas, who co-produced the film, says making “Mary” was “magical, everything about it was just fun.” Markie Post remains proud of her appearance as Mary’s mom, although at the time she thought jokingly that “culture as we know it is over.” Not that all the Farrelly brothers’ comic inspiration was base instincts. The idea to use off-center singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman as the film’s Greek chorus came from the 1965 western comedy “Cat Ballou,” which featured Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole as troubadours. In Hollywood, you’re only as good as your last picture. At the time for the Farrellys, that was the bowling comedy “Kingpin.” Coming after the phenomenal success of their first film, “Dumb & Dumber,” it underwhelmed at the box office (it has since found its audience on home video and is considered a cult favorite). But the Farrellys had a fan at 20th Century Fox in film marketing and distribution executive Tom Sherak. “He said to bring him the next project we were passionate about,” Bobby recalled. “We warned him we were going to push the envelope, and he gave us our opportunity to make the film we wanted to make.” “Mary” recaptured “Dumb & Dumber’s” mojo. It earned nearly $370 million worldwide. It paved the way for “American Pie” a year later and films like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” later on. Ed Decter and John J. Strauss, friends of the Farrellys, wrote the original script. The general idea was a romantic triangle: A guy still hung up on his high school crush hires a private eye to track her down but the private eye falls for her too. “We thought it was a great idea and a great title,” Farrelly said. “The project had gone into development hell at the studios. When we finished ‘Kingpin,’ we called them up and asked if we could take their idea and run with it. It was a collaboration.” (latimes.com)
Casting “There’s Something About Mary”
“We did have her at the top of the list,” said Bobby Farrelly. “When we met her, she elevated herself. We both walked away like, ‘I love that girl.’ I remember some critic somewhere said something like, ‘She gave it the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.’ She grounded it because she was so lovely. You could see why these guys (Stiller, Matt Dillon, Lee Evans) were going to ridiculous lengths to try and win her affection.” The directors, noted Diaz, worked as a team, “bouncing ideas off of each other and both giving directing. And occasionally they would ask everyone on the set, including the crew, for ideas that they would absolutely try. It was like a big family.” Though Mary’s stepdad (Keith David) is based on their own father, they decided to cast an African-American actor in the part. ”It just kind of changed the dynamic,” Bobby Farrelly said. “We had auditioned a bunch of guys and when Keith came in, he just blew us away.” “It was a wonderful sort of surprise,” said David, adding that several of his ad-libs made it into the film. “One that I remember most vividly is ‘Are you yelling at me in my own house?’” He loved the family dynamic in the movie because it reminded him of his relationship with his stepdad. “Sometimes a stepdad comes in at the right time in everybody’s life,” David noted, “It’s not about who sired you, but who raised you and how they raised you. My stepfather was an extremely lovely man. I based some of [my character] upon him because he loved his wife and when your wife comes with children, you love them, too.” (variety.com)
Behind the Scenes of the Prom Night Scenes
None of Ted’s friends believe he is going to the prom with Mary (“What a fox”). But no sooner does he pick her up at her house and he’s in her bathroom with his “franks and beans” caught in his zipper. Almost equally shocking was the appearance of “Night Court’s” Post as Mary’s mother, in a situation and using language way out of character for America’s Sweetheart. Which, she states, is why the Farrellys offered her the role; she didn’t even have to audition. “They just wanted the shock value,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m easily offended. I had read the script and I thought, ‘I can’t possibly do this movie,’ but I went in to meet them and they were just wonderful. Of course, I did it and I’m very glad I did, but my first impression was, ‘I can’t even let my parents see this,’ which they never did.” The Farrellys could have left Ted’s predicament to the imagination, but to “amplify his embarrassment,” they inserted a close-up of the exposed “beans.” A 4-feet-by-2-feet mock-up was produced. When it was brought on the set, the crew asked, ‘You’re not going to show it, are you?’ Farrelly recalled. “We gave it a try and the audience reaction was as good as we could have hoped. Peter Chernin, then the head at Fox, saw the film with an audience. We thought he might ask us to try a screening without the close-up. He said, ‘It’s perfectly reprehensible; don’t touch a thing.’ And that was that.” (latimes.com)
Meet Screenwriter John Strauss
John Strauss has been writing and producing television series, feature films, both live-action and computer-animated for over thirty years. John’s credits as a screenwriter include “There’s Something About Mary”, “Santa Clause II”, Santa Clause III”, starring Tim Allen and “Free Birds”, a computer-animated feature, starring Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson. Box office receipts of the aforementioned films total in excess of a billion dollars internationally. On the television side, John has been an executive producer/showrunner on over ten different television series. His most recent credits include the Golden Globe-winning series, “Mozart in the Jungle.” He is currently serving as executive producer for Peabody Award-Winning best drama series, “David Makes Man,” with Academy Award winner Tarell McCraney (Moonlight), for Warner Brothers Television and the OWN Network. He is currently writing two one-hour drama pilots for Warner Brothers Television, and a third one for Netflix. He recently finished working with “Riot Games,” adapting their massively multiplayer online game, League of Legends, into a computer-animated television series, “Arcane”. John is also adapting “There’s Something About Mary” as a Broadway musical. (sftv.lmu.edu)
Meet Screenwriter Ed Decter
Ed Decter is a producer, director, and writer. Along with his writing partner John J. Strauss, Ed wrote “There’s Something about Mary,” “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” “The Santa Clause 2” and “The Santa Clause 3” as well as many other screenplays…Ed lives in Los Angeles with his family. (simonandschuster.com) A few of Decter’s other works include, “Backyards & Bullets” (2007), “Big Mike” (2011), the TV series “In Plain Sight” (2011), “The Client List” (2013), “Helix” (2014), “Unforgettable” (2014) and most recently “Shadowhunters” (2016-2019).
About Director Bobby Farrelly
As the reigning kings of gross-out comedy, the Farrelly Brothers spent their careers writing and directing outlandish comedies that often pushed the boundaries of taste, while producing big laughs and huge box office. After receiving their start writing for the small screen, the Farrellys emerged with their first comedy feature, “Dumb and Dumber” (1994), which became one of their biggest box office hits. Following the hilarious “Kingpin” (1996), they crossed the romantic comedy with their trademark gross-out humor for “There’s Something About Mary” (1998), a non-stop laugh-fest that was also a huge hit both home and abroad. After “Stuck on You” (2003), the Farrelly Brothers delivered an unusually heartwarming romantic comedy with “Fever Pitch” (2005), which proved that the two could provide depth as well as humor. (rottentomatoes.com) Farrelly’s other projects include “The Heartbreak Kid” (2007), “Hall Pass” (2011), “The Three Stooges” (2012), “Dumb and Dumber To” (2014), “Trailer Park Boys” (2016-2018), “Loudermilk” (2018-2020) and most recently “The Now.”
About Director Peter Farrelly
Peter Farrelly is an American film director, screenwriter, producer and novelist. Recognized for his distinct comedic sensibility, Peter, along with his brother Bobby, have made some of the most successful comedic films in the last two decades. It all started in 1994, with their first feature film, “Dumb and Dumber.” The Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels comedy grossed over $246 million worldwide. Building off the overwhelming response to the film, they followed up with “There’s Something About Mary” which made more than $360 million worldwide. Their catalogue of additional hits includes “Kingpin,” “Outside Providence,” “Me, Myself & Irene,” “Shallow Hal,” “Stuck On You,” “Fever Pitch,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Movie 43,” “The Three Stooges,” and their long awaited sequel to their debut, “Dumb and Dumber To.” Peter has also published the novels “Outside Providence,” “The Comedy Writer,” and the children’s book, “Abigail the Happy Whale.” A graduate of Providence College and the Master’s creative writing program at Columbia University, Peter is married with two children. (caviar.tv) He directed and co-wrote and produced the 2018 film, “Green Book” which won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Picture. Farrelly’s most recent project is “Loudermilk” (2017-2020).