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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.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.