14 November 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: Dumb and Dumber To

You've got two options tonite if you're a fan of Dumb and Dumber (1994). You can either watch it on TV on Comedy Central (or well...anywhere, you know how to use the Internet), or you can watch the sequel, Dumb and Dumber To (2014) in theaters. I suppose you could watch Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003), but the less we talk about the better. There are a certain amount of issues at stake with the debut of this new sequel, and it's worth taking a moment to examine.

Now, it'd be easy to just deride this as a meaningless cashgrab sequel that no one really wanted, but that's a bit simple and reductive. I'd like to instead consider pieces that made the first one great, issues with the Farrelly Brothers, and maybe, even some redemptive elements to be found. Let's first revisit that original, timeless comedy.
And a nice chianti

I say timeless, but actually, re-watching Dumb and Dumber lately reminds me of just how 90s it is. I'd still consider it one of the all-time greatest comedies, but it is crazy 90s. That one moment where Lloyd and Harry leave each other while the Crash Test Dummies "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" plays in the background doesn't really have enough notoriety as the most 90s moment ever. Watch that scene and try not to flashback to the Clinton years. It's also similar to a lot of Seinfeld episodes with the core conceit that the entire plot could be pretty easily prevented with a simple cell phone call.

The film also hinges on the youth of its actors, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as these hapless 30-somethings somewhere between youth and maturity, who pull off extreme dumbness while their exaggerated arrested development mixes with these bits of childish attempts at being grown-ups ("a rapist wit," Lloyd's purchase of "essentials," which mostly involves porno, beer, oversized hats, and pinwheels). Yeah, as a kid I never put it together that he loses his wallet trying to obtain a copy of Rhode Island Slut. So, the first strike against a sequel coming out in 2014.

There's plenty in the film, though, that's really funny that's not dependent on age or timing. And while it's arguable whether or not Jim Carrey has evolved as an actor since 1994 (He has for sure. As a comedic actor maybe not), Jeff Daniels certainly has earned some notable chops as a dramatic actor in his middle age. Again, has Jeff Daniels really proved he can do comedy to the heights he did in 1994? Not really. One ray of hope is the return of the original directors, Peter and Bobby Farrelly.

The Farrelly Brothers actually have a truly insane sliding scale with their films. They followed up Dumb and Dumber with Kingpin (1996), which maybe didn't reach mainstream audiences the same way their other 90s comedies did, but contains some pretty damn strong character work and storytelling. There's Something About Mary (1998) is probably their most notable film in terms of both financial and cultural success, but after that it gets rough. I mean, REAL rough.

I'd contend that Me, Myself, and Irene (2000) had its moments while never really connecting as a whole. I'm not sure if you can even really consider Osmosis Jones (2001) their own because they had nothing to do with the animated portions, which weren't altogether terrible. Then they have a legendary run of shititude with Shallow Hal (2001), Stuck on You (2003), Fever Pitch (2005), The Heartbreak Kid (2007), Hall Pass (2011), and The Three Stooges (2012). There's a mind-numbing descent into hell there, my friends. Out of that lot I actually think the funniness of Hall Pass is underrated and Shallow Hal is at least memorable, but look at the rest of this shit. How did the creator of three of the greatest comedies of the 90s release some of the worst studio comedies of the past decade and a half?
This alone could be worth it. Right?

The simple answer is that comedy is hard, particularly for career comedy directors who only really have one voice, which they demonstrated pretty well in their first efforts and then stretched and mutated for eight additional films without ever really evolving. I'd suggest that the Farrelly's at least understand story even if their comedies have been missing the mark in humour lately. It would be worth their while to branch out a bit and stretch their creativity. Part of another reason that Dumb and Dumber worked so well is because it's really a movie about nothing - it's just a pair of dumb guys interacting with people across the country. It's also two movies in one that allows itself to get away with being at first an expert study of the heightened degree of patheticness of the lives of these idiots, and then it shifts to look at what would happen if they had a ton of money. It's just an excuse to riff on these ridiculous situations that's really free-flowing and unpredictable while crafting all these really genuine characters.

Okay, I will jump on the completely unnecessary bandwagon criticism, too, if only to again expose my biggest issue with sequels like this. So often we tend to pour all this energy and expectation into these rehashes or sequels that try to match their predecessors instead of creating something new. I'm not really looking for a Dumb and Dumber sequel, but I'd like to see the Farrelly's (or anyone) match the film and create a new property that we're complaining about getting bastardized in 2034. Seriously - do you think we'll get a Neighbors To in 2034? Man I hope so. I'd rather see the next Jim Carrey than the old Jim Carrey try to be the new Jim Carrey. And if you think that's unfair, look at what Bill Murray has been able to do with his career (actually become an actor and evolve rather than fall back on what got him there).

This is so much against Dumb and Dumber To, but in all honesty, the trailer doesn't look that bad. Yeah, it seems pretty funny. Maybe that's all it needs to be.

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