"There's Something About Mary" is what you would expect from creative writing/directing duo of Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the chuckleheads behind "Dumb and Dumber" and "Kingpin". Rife with physical humor and jokes constructed around bodily functions, this low-brow romantic-comedy is a crass, obscene, offensive, crudely-crafted guilty pleasure that will have you ashamedly in stitches, especially if you consider yourself part of the "South Park" generation.
I couldn't believe she knew my name. Some of my best friends didn't even know my name.
The movie starts out in 1985 in Rhode Island. Ted Strochmann (Ben Stiller of "Flirting with Disaster" and "The Cable Guy") is a high school geek in need of a date for the Senior Prom. He manages to luck out when he comes to the defense of Warren (W. Earl Brown), a mentally challenged boy about to be attacked by a bully. Fortune smiles on Ted when it turns out that the prettiest girl in school, Mary (Cameron Diaz of "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "A Life Less Ordinary"), is Warren's sister. Mary, charmed by Ted's selfless act, asks him to the prom. However, this high point in Ted's young life is derailed the night of the prom, after an unfortunate accident with a zipper that sends him to the hospital.
Thirteen years later, Ted is still hung up on Mary, who he hasn't seen since the night of the prom. He believes that she is somewhere in Florida, but he is unsure. His best buddy Dom (Chris Elliot) recommends that he hire a private detective to look her up, which brings Ted into contact with sleazy Pat Healy (Matt Dillon of "Wild Things"). Pat is successful in locating Mary, who is still single and has a successful orthopedic surgery practice. However, this shameless private dick would rather keep Mary to himself, so he tells Ted that his high school sweetheart is an overweight welfare mother confined to a wheelchair. With Ted out of the way, Pat creeps his way into Mary's life, pushing all the right buttons with the help of knowledge gleaned from his covert surveillance. However, things really heat up when Ted learns from another colleague that Mary is still a 'fox', and he jumps in his car and heads down to be with his one true love.
The uneven and meandering narrative, which does show 'some' maturity since the Farrely's previous outings, is packed with numerous comic set-pieces, some working a lot better than others. But even if a joke misfires, you'll be sure to be thrown another one in short order. While most of these memorable (for good or bad reasons) scenes rely on the lowest common denominator of humor, there are still some inventive pieces that show some intelligence. Two such sequences are an off-topic roughing-up that Ted receives when he is believed by police to be a serial killer, and a recurring minstrel that provides much of the soundtrack for the movie. However, for the most part, the Farrelly brothers pull no punches in their attempts to elicit audience reaction, no matter how offensive or how big the gross-out. No one is safe from their acerbic wit: not the physically-disabled, the mentally-challenged, homosexuals... the list goes on. The line is crossed so many times in this movie with numerous wildly inappropriate deviations from the norm.
I got 'it' stuck!
Well, these things happen... let's have a look at it.
The 'zipper scene' is one such example. In a more conservative comedy, the other characters might gawk at and belittle Ted's hapless predicament, but the audience would never actually 'see' the anatomic anomaly. In "There's Something About Mary", that line is not only crossed, but it is shoved in yer face with a close-up. Another infamous scene that crosses the line has Dom advising Ted to 'spank the monkey' before a big date. In your typical comedy, the protagonist would most likely execute this maneuver off-screen, perhaps behind a closed door, and the audience would, at the most, hear noises alluding to it. However, in this movie, the audience is in the washroom with Ted for the entirety (somehow, I wonder if this scene will be remembered as a low point in Stiller's career, much like Jeff Daniels parading around in a dog outfit in "Dumb and Dumber"). And I won't even go into the 'hair gel' scene.
However, these transgressions are made up for by the performances of Stiller, Diaz, and Dillon, each of them charming in their own way. Stiller is perfect as the ill-fated and lovelorn protagonist, who is inflicted almost every physical indignity in the book. Diaz is sparkling as the love interest, and her unbridled enthusiasm and charm shines through in every scene. Dillon is effectively oily as the crooked private investigator, though having Mary fall for such a creepy-looking guy certainly pushes the limit of believability.
Though "There's Something About Mary" suffers from some editing and pacing problems, particularly in the second act, and culminates in an implausible denouement that has every guy that Mary ever dated showing up at her apartment, there are enough laughs to keep you smiling and making it feel worthwhile. This no-brow romantic intrigue may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's all in good fun and bad taste.