One could chronicle the film career of Peter and Bobby Farrelly
by listing their most disgusting moments, the scenes that would compel the most
hardened epicures of gross-out comedy to say, "I can't believe they did that."
That list would include Jeff Daniels prolonged encounter with a
broken toilet in Dumb and
Dumber (1994). Woody Harrelson
making a special arrangement with his landlady to cover the rent in Kingpin (1996). The "franks and beans" episode in There's
Something about Mary (1998). The
tissues and hand cream in Me,
Myself & Irene (2000). Even
Drew Barrymore getting conked on the head by a foul ball in Fever Pitch (2005) is
Their new film Hall
Pass, in which Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis star as a couple of horny
hubbies given a week-long reprieve from fidelity by their wives (Jenna Fischer
and Christina Applegate), continues in that tradition. There's one scene in
which a woman picked up in a bar is feeling a little under the weather and...Well,
let's just say fans of the Brothers won't be disappointed. For everyone else,
you've been warned.
But Hall Pass
also balances its outrageousness with a surprising sentimentality and conservatism.
If you cut out the poop gags, vagina jokes, exposed penises, masturbation
references, and arcane terminology ("fake chow," for example), what's left (if
anything) would be suitable viewing for a Sarah Palin rally.
So is their offensiveness really a smokescreen for family values?
Have they lost their subversive edge, their excremental vision, and become
comfortable with the bourgeois status quo? Maybe they will return to the comic
anarchy of their earliest films when they begin production on their dream
project, the ten-years-in-the-making The
Three Stooges. It promises to be a celebration of the moronic trio whose
TV syndicated shorts have regaled generations of pre-adolescents, inspiring
some, like the Farrellys, to aspire to their consummate puerility.
These are a few of the questions I discussed with the pair when I
had a chance to interview them during their promotional tour for Hall Pass.
Q: In your films you combine gross-out comedy with...What, you
don't like the term "gross-out comedy?"
PF: No, we don't.
Q: What term would you use?
PF: Masterpieces would be nice. But it diminishes what we do
to just call it gross-out comedy. Something
About Mary, the hair gel, to call it just gross-out comedy? We took a
long time, an hour and fifteen minutes, to set up where this great guy meets
this girl in high school, falls madly in love with her, things don't work out.
Seventeen years later he finally hooks up with her, it looks like it's going to
happen, and you open the door and he's got the thing in his hair. So it's more
than just the gross-out part. It's the situation. That's why it's wrong to just
call it gross-out.
Q: So let's say instead that you have this excretory humor...
BF: That's better. Yeah, we're not afraid to go for it.
We're not afraid of bodily functions.
Q: You seemed to have covered them all.
BF: There's always new ones.
PF: Had you heard of "fake chow" before? A friend of ours,
whom I will dub a cunning linguist, came up with that. When he explained it to
use we were like, well...
Q: So you combine this excretory comedy with romanticism.
How do you balance the tone?
BF: It's important that there's a sweet story. The gags
sometimes camouflage that. But at its heart the movie is about a couple of guys
who get the week off but when they come back at the end, they're better for it.
PF: It's a balancing act because we don't want the whole
thing to be absurd. We also don't want it to be syrupy sweet. We want it to be
both. A lot of it is just the timing. We don't really know how that's going to
work until we're in the editing room and start cutting.
Q: Ultimately your films are about family values, in a Hollywood sort of way.
BF: We don't purposely do that. In some ways it's not
Hollywood. In Dumb and
Dumber they don't get the girl. In Kingpin
he doesn't win the tournament. We do want you to walk out feeling good. But on
the other hand, at the start of this movie, we were both open to the idea of
both of them getting divorced. It occurred to us, let's see where it ends up. I
wanted to have a 70s style ending, where anything could happen. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- they die at the end. The
Way We Were - they're not together in the end. We went in knowing that
one or both of these couple could divorce. Ultimately, after they made their
mistakes, paid their dues, got beaten up a bit, we felt they deserved to get
Q: It seems like it's the characters who succumb to
temptation who get beaten up.
PF: It does, doesn't it?
Q: That's a kind of traditional moral value. Do you guys
consider yourselves conservative?
PF: I would say I'm way liberal. I can't speak for him. We
don't really talk politics. I'm open to things. Live and let live. I'm for gay
BF: I'm on the liberal side too when it comes to comedy.
We'll try anything if we think it's funny. As far as politics are concerned, I
would classify myself as apolitical.
Q: But your films can be political. You often involve
disabled people, for example.
PF: Yeah at the beginning of the movie in the card game
there's a guy in a wheelchair - that's Danny Murphy. And then the guy who
punches out Jason Sudeikis, his name's Igor, he's the tallest man in North
America, and he has a lot of disabilities because of that. There was some story
on CNN about who he is and he said his dream was to be in a movie, so we called
him up and got him in.
We do it because we
have friends who are mentally or intellectually disabled. People we grew up
with. When we started writing scripts we started including them a little bit.
People at the studio said, "ah, you don't want them in a comedy." Well, why not?
It was part of our upbringing.
Q: Another thing I liked in the film is that a white guy
ends up having an African-American wife, and there's no comment on it.
PF: I love to do that. We love that no comment business. We
don't like to make a big deal of it. Like in There's
Something About Mary. You know, her father being black. When we were
casting that, we didn't write he was black, we didn't write either way. So we
thought, you wouldn't think a black guy who sounds like an inner city black guy
would be Mary's dad. So fuck it, let's do it. You like keeping the audience off
balance. Surprising them. That was a great example of it. No comment on it, but
it helped the scene a lot.
Q: There's also a homoerotic quality. Is every comedy that
comes out these days required to have a naked penis?
BF: Lately it's catching on. But I don't think there's ever
been one like the one in this film.
Q: It filled the frame, let's say. And there's also a
conversation about "would you have a seven minute blow job or seven minute kiss?"
Which is kind of a trick question.
BF: It is a tough one. But it's funny. When Dumb and Dumber came out one
guy at the studio called it homophobic. We were like, are you kidding me? It's
homoerotic. These guys are taking saunas together, sleeping in the same bed.
PF: They're in love with each other.
Q: Kind of like the Three Stooges. That movie seems like a
return to the wellspring of comedy that you draw from.
PF: That physical slapstick humor is still funny. They made
their movies in 1935 and we can still watch it and howl with laughter. Whereas
comedy from that time that relies on witty repartee and stuff, it changes. Like
Preston Sturges. It's hard for people to appreciate people like Preston Sturges
the way they appreciate the Stooges or W.C. Fields. It's harder for us to
appreciate the nonphysical comedy.
Q: So the film transfers the Stooges to the present day?
PF: Yeah. We've written three new episodes. And it's present
day, but they look the same, sound the same, dress the same, same sound
effects. It's a kids' movie
Q: Even with Cher playing a
BF: She's not committed yet. We were lucky to get Cher in the movie Stuck
On You. We just like her. She's a cool chick and we'd like to work with
PF: She's the only woman we've ever worked with who banged
both of us.
BF: At the same time.
PF: So we'd like to get back together again.