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Why The Farrelly Brothers Deserve Your Love

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: Left, “The Heartbreak Kid,” Paramount Pictures, 2007; below, “Dumb & Dumber,” New Line Cinema, 1994]

Bobby and Peter Farrelly, like it or not, are two of the most fascinating American directors of the past two decades. Despite taking routine critical beatings, the brothers have created a unified body of work, elaborating on their pet theme of what constitutes normality ever since Jeff Daniels’ monsoon of a bowel movement in “Dumb and Dumber” (1994). Each successive film follows a remarkably similar trajectory to that debut hit: a social outcast (usually scarred by the loss of a loved one), embarks upon a journey to achieve a goal that will restore their dignity. They fail. After this disappointment, they realize the social norms they’re straining for are bullshit, and their self-respect is restored, if only to spite society-at-large. This pattern is consistent all the way through to “Stuck on You” (2003), and their latest, “The Heartbreak Kid,” looks to continue it by way of a honeymoon road trip.

Then there’s the flood of bodily fluid punch lines that are the core of their comedy — those outrages upon the anatomy, semen hair gel or adult breastfeeding, that immediately invalidate any claim to middle-brow respectability. They’ll never be taken as seriously as Judd Apatow — whose “Knocked Up” The New York Times’ A.O. Scott called an “instant classic,” and which inspired a few think-pieces about the state of American comedy (David Denby’s grumpy “A Fine Romance” in The New Yorker). Apatow is forgiven his vulgarity and birthing sight gags because of his underlying sentimentality, the “serious” way in which he handles the effect of pregnancy on a relationship. The Farrellys aren’t cut that slack, even though their recent work has become increasingly personal and joltingly emotional — far more daring, and much more moving than Apatow’s closed-off world of sarcastic young suburbanites.

The key to the Farrellys’ films, as vague as it might sound, is their generosity. It extends from their hiring of friends and family as extras and the use of location shooting in their hometown to the video packages that end each film. “Me, Myself, and Irene” (2000) ends by showing still photos of every actor who was cut out, while “Shallow Hal” (2001) closes with images of all the behind-the-scenes tech workers. These gestures are representative of the democratic way in which the comedies are made (everyone’s encouraged to suggest jokes) — and that spirit seeps into the films. The stories consist of a search for this feeling of community — as the classic Farrelly character has fallen outside of the proscribed normal lifestyle. In “Dumb & Dumber,” Carrey and Daniels are idiots who break every possible social code because they aren’t aware of them. In “Kingpin” (1996), Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) is a disgraced (and poor) bowler with a hook for a right hand, while “Irene”‘s Charlie is the town punching bag, a pathetic cuckold that pigtailed girls curse off the street.

One of the major markers of outsider status in their films is mental or physical disability — and this makes people nervous. Whether it’s the treatment of schizophrenia in “Irene,” mental disability in “Mary” and “The Ringer” (produced by the Farrellys’ in 2005), or the conjoined twins in “Stuck On You” — there’s always the accusation that these people’s disabilities are being laughed at, which is never the case. They are presented without pity or condescension as independent individuals, never defined by their disability, just people with vices and faults of their own. A childhood friend of Peter Farrelly, Danny Murphy, became a quadriplegic after a diving accident, and has appeared in every film since “Kingpin” (1996), and in all of them he plays an acid-tongued bastard — flipping the switch that chops off Munson’s ill-fated hand.

The Farrelly hero, after expressing contempt for the status quo, searches for a new community to belong to — every film (aside from Hal), arranges this in the form of a journey, either to search for a loved one or to rejuvenate their careers. This pursuit fails (as it does in “Dumb & Dumber,” “Kingpin,” and “Stuck on You”), or succeeds only after the character rejects the social codes he originally hoped to live up to (as in “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal”). In both cases, traditional morality is proven false or overthrown, and the line between normal and abnormal is blurred. New splinter communities are formed or maintained: “Dumb & Dumber”‘s Lloyd and Harry maintain their country of two; “Kingpin” ends with an Amish village forming an alliance with Roy and his girl; Mary’s final group is a circle of obsessives that surround the central couple; “Me, Myself, and Irene” affirms the relationship between Charlie and his bastard children; Hal joins a merry band of Peace Corps volunteers; and “Stuck On You”‘s Walt and Bob end the film in a triumphant shot-countershot that emphasizes their new-found independence while also re-integrating them into their hometown (after nailing a musical number with Meryl Streep).

While the content has remained consistent, the box-office has dwindled. Every film since “There’s Something About Mary” has made less than the previous one, decreasing until “Stuck On You” (their masterpiece) made only $34 million domestically, five times less than Mary. This despite their increasing visual sophistication (“Stuck On You”‘s superb use of the 2.35:1 frame) and emotional delicacy — it’s what Peter calls the “sensitve trilogy” (“Hal,” “Stuck on You,” “The Ringer”) that has tanked the worst. In order to recover their fans, it seems, they need to restore a higher joke-to-drama ratio, or at least return to more bankable stars than Jack Black, Kinnear-Damon and Johnny Knoxville. Their next film following the trilogy, “Fever Pitch” (2005), was a contract job — for the first time they had no input into the screenplay or casting — and it has little relevance to the rest of their work. Their stock has fallen to the point where their name isn’t even used in most promotional material for “The Heartbreak Kid.” The success of “Kid,” their most commercial sounding (and R-rated) film in years, may determine how much freedom they have in the future — and may be the deciding factor in whether their long-gestating Three Stooges project (with Russell Crowe as Moe!) gets out of the planning stages. Here’s to hoping “Kid”‘s a blockbuster.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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