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There's Something About Mary

(1998) *** R
119 min. 20th Century Fox Distribution. Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Josh Klausner (II). Cast: Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller, Lin Shaye, Lee Evans.

/content/films/3409/1.jpgThere's Something about Mary is gauche, garish, and gross, a prime example of the coarsening of our culture and of the art of comedy in film. It's also pretty darn funny. Those with a low tolerance for low humor (think The Three Stooges—overtly alluded to here—then go even lower) and a bodily aversion to bawdy humor should stay far away, but everyone else can enjoy this peak of raunchy comedy for the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter), who've been on a slow slide downhill ever since.

The film opens with a stroke of genius that earns considerable goodwill: the Farrellys put indie rockers Jonathan Richman (guitar and vocals) and Tommy Larkins (drums) in a tree to sing the charming introductory title song. The duo will continue to pop up throughout the film, just when you've forgotten them, to provide more musical commentary. Under that tree is suburban Cumberland, Rhode Island in 1985, where sixteen-year-old Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) nervously lines up a prom date with the most beautiful girl in school, Mary Jensen (Cameron Diaz). Prom night turns out to be an escalating series of disasters for poor Ted, who seems especially plagued by metal (braces, his zipper and, later, a fish hook). Definitive disaster—let's just call it a man's worst nightmare—strikes before they can leave for the prom, leaving Ted to wonder for the next thirteen years what might have been.

Ted's psychiatrist (a hilarious Richard Jenkins) is no help, so his best friend Dom (Chris Elliott) suggests hiring a private detective to find Mary and provide Ted with closure or—who knows?—perhaps rekindled romance. Ted hires sleazy Pat Healy (Matt Dillon, rocking a pencil moustache), who finds Mary and decides to keep her for himself, using his spy techniques to learn to (pretend to) be the man she wants. What ensues is a surprisingly well-constructed film farce (credit original screenwriters Ed Decter & John J. Strauss along with the Farrellys, who also get writing credit), one with an actual point to make about the darkest side of male desire. It's a comedy of stalking, with our hero being the least offensive of several men who can't let go of the idea of being with the same beautiful object of desire.

It's the decorative trappings of the story that continuously dare to offend and disgust. The Farrellys walk a fine line with Mary's mentally challenged brother Warren (W. Earl Brown), though his turns out to be a benign and affectionate portrayal (based on a real acquaintance of the brothers). The filmmakers dodge another bullet with a clever twist on another character, a handicapped Brit played by talented physical comedian Lee Pace. Dom may have terrible hives, and Ted is repeatedly tortured, but it's the grotesque Magda (Lin Shaye) and her pet dog Puffy that get the brunt of the Farrelly's comic attacks. Her attempt at looking tanned leaves her a dark brown, and her sagging, shriveled breasts are used for a shock laugh; meanwhile, Puffy is subject to all manner of abuse, to a degree not seen since A Fish Called Wanda.

The film works largely on the strengths of its irresistable cast, with Stiller and Diaz establishing their stardom, and Dillon proving to be surprisingly adept at comedy. Of course, There's Something About Mary is best known for its "hair gel" scene, which threw down the gauntlet regarding the extent to which a comedy could go in search of gross-out laughs. Filmmakers responded, and a year later, we had a teenager fucking a pie. While it's not exactly a proud legacy, there is something about There's Something About Mary, and like a child who shrugs and smiles after pulling a prank, the Farrellys end the film with a spirited cast and crew karaoke performance of "Build Me Up Buttercup." That's the way to get away with murder, "boys will be boys" style.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio

Street date: 5/12/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In its Blu debut, There's Something About Mary comes in its Theatrical Cut and a seamlessly branched Extended Cut that runs eleven more minutes. The film looks pretty good for its age: this isn't a transfer that will knock your socks off—it's fairly flat in appearance—but it's certainly the best the film has looked on home video, with a brighter, more detailed image (with stronger black level) than ever before. The color is a bit dull, but that's my recollection of how this film has always looked, and there are no noticeable digital artifacts to distract from the solid presentation. Sound won't wow anyone, either, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix gets the job done (without making much use of its surround capability) for an aurally low-key comedy.

The Blu-ray contains a comprehensive collection of bonus features, beginning with a directors' commentary with Peter and Bobby Farrelly, directors' scene specific bonus commentary, and a writers' commentary with Ed Decter & John J. Strauss. All are worth a listen for fans of the film, particularly the tracks by the gregarious Farrellys.

"Getting Behind Mary" (43:44, SD) is the disc's most intriguing extras, with Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller, and Cameron Diaz introducing raw footage of rehearsals and shoots of various scenes.

"AMC Backstory: There's Something About Mary" (20:50, SD) tells, y'know, the backstory of the film with interview footage of Stiller, Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, Chris Elliott, co-writers John J. Straus and Ed Decter, producer Frank Beddor, Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Tom Rothman, Cameron Diaz, cinematographer Mark Irwin, and Lin Shaye.

"Comedy Central: Reel Comedy" (21:31, SD) is an unusually entertaining promotional half hour. Harland Williams hosts, and interviews Stiller, Diaz, Elliott, and Dillon.

"Up a Tree with Jonathan Richman & Tommy Larkins" (11:37, SD) profiles the musical performers, with comments from Ric Ocasek, Marcellus Hall of White Hastle, Dean Wareham of Luna, and Richman & Larkins.

"Franks and Beans: A Conversation with W. Earl Brown" (5:32, SD) and "Touchdown: A Conversation with Brett Favre" (5:37, SD) are self-explanatory featurettes. "Exposing Themselves: Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller, Chris Elliott" (14:26, SD) similarly provides interview footage. "Interview Roulette with Harland Williams" (6:51, SD) is an amusing montage of clips of Williams chatting about random topics.

"Puffy, Boobs, and Balls" (10:51) doles out lessons of "Makeup 101" from designer Tony Gardner and willing victim Shaye. Around the World With Mary allows viewers to watch the end scene in any of eight different languages, using the "Audio" button to switch from track to track (though couldn't one do this while watching the whole film? Never mind...). The Marketing Mary gallery includes International Posters, 13 TV Spots, and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:25, SD).

We also get "'Every Day Should Be a Holiday' - The Dandy Warhols Music Video" (4:13, SD), "Outtakes" (3:27, SD), and "'Build Me Up Buttercup' - Karaoke" (3:03, SD), as well as "Behind the Zipper" (4:35, SD) with Magda hosting a behind-the-scenes look at the scene about "man's most primal fear and his worst nightmare."

Oddly, the packaging promises "Clay Animated Titles with Optional Directors' Commentary," but I did not find them on the disc.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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