Ben Stiller sure is a good sport.
His role is downright degrading. He gets caught in his zipper, an episode that brings him folkloric fame; his (mistaken) arrest for public lewdness is nationally televised; he masturbates (not on-camera, but for the camera); and the girl of his dreams endlessly teases him. He is the butt of most of this movie’s outrageous and embarrassing jokes. A lesser, more vain actor would have turned down the script after reading to page 5, but Stiller stuck it out.
Stiller fills the role with the injured dignity of a cat: he can’t laugh at his own comic suffering (his hurt look is priceless), but as long as no harm is done, he’ll get over it. He is the perfect guy to play a joke on, and the Farrelly brothers heap on the abuse.
Stiller plays Ted, the hapless high-school geek who was lucky enough to be asked to the prom by Mary (Cameron Diaz, who herself is the butt of some of the jokes). The zipper incident ends their date before it can begin, and before we know it, 13 years have passed. Stiller talks to his old friend Dom (Chris Elliott, in a role that suits him) and decides that he wants to look up good old Mary, who has moved to Miami.
Dom’s friend Pat (Matt Dillon, not too bad in one of his first comic roles) is a private investigator who occasionally makes it down to Florida, so he agrees to look her up. When he sees Mary he falls for her at first sight, so hard that he burns his bridges and moves to Florida. Ted hears that Mary is ugly, fat, and crippled — part of Pat’s plan to keep the competition away — but he still wants to see her after all these years. He too heads to Florida....
There’s Something about Mary is the funniest movie to come along since Liar Liar, but it has a distinct type of humor that’s relatively untapped. Jim Carrey has a lock on one-man sight gags. Airplane! had great verbal gags. Hot Shots! (and others) twist cultural references into humor. But the Farrelly brothers (and here I also include Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin) drill deep into baser human strata and make jokes that require no command of English, no understanding of the culture, and no intellect. These jokes are aimed right at your gut, and good luck telling yourself that you are above all that.
There are certainly jokes above which I will rise. But these jokes have extra ammunition. They are never left out on their own, they are always backed up by auxiliary and followup jokes arising from the same situation. So while seeing Ted (Stiller) masturbate is something of a joke in itself, it is by no means the whole joke, and you better watch out when the reinforcements arrive.
This movie was very funny, and that is the reason you should go see it. I’m sure the film had its faults, but I hardly had time to take notice of them. As for the humor, not all the jokes are as funny as the best ones, and there are long spells (maybe 20 minutes) between scenes of chaotic hilarity. But in this film, that really doesn’t matter. The good parts make it worth seeing regardless.
If you’re still not sure whether to see There’s Something about Mary, I have three comments to make:
• The jokes are cruel. Not sadistic, but cruel. If you can’t stand yourself for laughing at someone else’s misfortune, maybe this movie really isn’t for you.
• The jokes are crude. There aren’t too many scatological jokes, but there are jokes about masturbation, genitalia, and death. If these are offensive to you, don’t go.
• Go when it’s crowded. The audience reaction will make it all the funnier. If you are the only one in the theater, it just won’t be as funny. It probably won’t even be as funny on video (remind me to dock it half a star when it hits the shelves).
Other than that, all I can say is go see this film and have a great time.