Outside Providence Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999


Grass... no license... you hit a parked cop car! Don't get me started again.

Outside Providence Logo

After unleashing "There's Something About Mary", the gross-out comedy of 1998, fans of Peter and Bobby Farrelly have been eagerly awaiting their follow-up effort, with the firm expectation of the filmmaking duo pushing the comedic envelope once again. Unfortunately, "Outside Providence" is more like two steps forward and three steps back. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel written by Peter Farrelly in 1988 (long before finding fame and fortune with "Dumb and Dumber"), "Outside Providence" is a coming of age story that attempts to move the Farrelly brothers into more dramatic territory. Unfortunately, it ends up proving to be a disappointment to everyone, including the fans expecting the gross-out antics usually associated with Farrelly fans, and moviegoers who are merely looking for an entertaining and worthwhile story.

It is 1974, and working-class kid Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) is wasting his days away in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, hanging out, causing mischief, and getting high with his friends. However, after a drug-induced car accident involving a parked police car, Tim is sent packing (with a garbage bag for a suitcase) by his beer-guzzling dad (Alec Baldwin of "The Edge") to spend his senior year in a prep school.

What's a prep school?
It's to prepare you, for not gettin' your neck broke by me.

Shawn Hatosy and Amy Smart

Upon arrival at Cornwall Academy, Tim sticks out like a sore thumb and he quickly runs afoul of the school's rigid uniform regulations, code of behavior, and the stern attentions of headmaster Mr. Funderberk (Timothy Crowe). Despite being out of his element, Tim quickly finds a new circle of friends to with whom to hang out, create mischief, and get high. More importantly, it is at Cornwall that Tim comes to know Jane Weston (Amy Smart), a comely coed who acts as a positive influence in his life, bringing about a renewed sense of purpose in his otherwise aimless existence.

That little girl you're running with...
Yeah, what about her?
Let me tell you something... it's just as much the guy's responsibility as it is the girl's... don't go getting your little friend there in trouble.
I know.
One more thing... making sex is like Chinese dinner... it ain't over until you both get your cookies.

On the surface, "Outside Providence" is very similar to 1997's "Good Will Hunting", the story of an directionless young man who finds a sense of purpose in his own life with the help of the people around him. In fact, Peter Farrelly has publicly criticized Miramax for marketing "Outside Providence" as another gross-out comedy in the vein of "There's Something About Mary", instead of the sensitive seriocomedy it purports to be. Unfortunately, the sloppily-handled and cliché-ridden script does a very poor job of conveying the emotional beats of the story, while its often mean-spirited comedic segments end up fizzling. Whether you look at "Outside Providence" as a drama or your archetypal Farrelly comedy, the outcome is disappointing.

One of the most noticeable aspects of the script for "Outside Providence" is how little about its characters are revealed. Though the audience gets to know Tim's character quite well (he's a loser), there is a dearth of detail provided on the other characters of the story. For example, in addition to not clarifying how it is that Jane is the only female student in an otherwise all-boy school, the script doesn't assign a motivation to this love interest character, and the ensuing romance comes across as both implausible and artificial. Another character that gets shortchanged is Tim's crippled brother Jackie (Tommy Bone), who only seems to be around to serve as the punch-line for a couple of jokes and visual gags. As for the rest of Tim's friends, the script does little to get the audience to care for them-- after all, how much fun is it to hang around people who do nothing but smoke-up and get wasted day-after-day? In fact, when one of these characters dies in a car accident as a result of being intoxicated, there's not much pathos, since the character was poorly-sketched to begin with and his on-screen actions did little to gain audience sympathy.

In the area of plot mechanics, "Outside Providence" also falls apart. Unraveling like a disjointed series of gags and obligatory scenes, the film plays out like a cross between "Porky's" and the heavy-handed moralizing of an afterschool special. Though the film is centered on Tim's journey and how he comes to take responsibility for his own actions, the story often gets derailed by a number of pointless subplots, such as an inconsequential scene where one of Old Man Dunphy's poker buddies 'outs' himself. And when the film finally gets around to the key points in Tim's maturation, the execution is mishandled such that the struggle and conflict that Tim faces is quickly glossed over, such as a montage sequence encapsulates the process of Tim getting his grades up. Another mangled scene has Tim in a heart-to-heart talk with his dad, but is emotionally muted since the audience is not privy to the details of the situation that caused the emotional rift between them in the first place.

Finally, in the area of laughs, "Outside Providence" is not very funny, unless watching people get stoned is your idea of a good time. Unlike the previous Farrelly comedies, the jokes don't seem to work in this film, and part of the reason is the mean-spirited context in which they are presented. A number of the comic sequences involve characters inflicting humiliating or painful circumstances on other characters, which end up killing the joke. One such sequence involves a flashback explaining how Tim's roommate (Jack Ferver) got the nickname 'Jiz', and another sequence illustrates how 'Drugs' Delaney (Jon Abrahams) almost kills Jackie while driving under the influence. One of the reasons why "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" were so funny was that the characters were often the subject of the joke, but did not realize it, which urged the audience to laugh at them out of sympathy. On the other hand, the malicious nature of the humiliation found in "Outside Providence", where the hapless subjects knew whose negligence or ill-will they were a victim of, the resulting humor is less assured.

"Outside Providence" has very little to offer, whether you are looking for a well-told story or are merely there for a few good laughs. Weak in almost every department, it seems that both Miramax and Peter Farrelly got this movie wrong-- it is neither another "There's Something About Mary" nor is it another "Good Will Hunting".

Images courtesy of Miramax Pictures. All rights reserved.


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