Film: The Big Picture - Mary, Mary quite amenable


Is it not about time that someone took responsibility for what gets shown on our cinema screens? In the new comedy There's Something About Mary, there are jokes involving narcotic abuse, masturbation, genital deformity and the mentally disabled; domestic pets are routinely injured and bodily fluids fly across the screen willy-nilly.

However, the really outrageous thing about the movie is that most of the unsavoury little surprises on which its comic vitality depends have been spoiled by the cinema trailers many months in advance. If you have seen those previews, then you are already prepared for most of the film's highlights, and will therefore sympathise with my bleat of protest. For those who have not, I pledge not to remove the sting from any of the picture's five or six pristine gags in the following review.

This may not be as tricky as it seems. While these instances of puerile, gross-out humour are what the movie is becoming notorious for, they are actually nothing more than ostentatiously vulgar embellishments on a very ordinary love story. The icing may be tasteless, but the cake underneath is just a flavourless, bland confection.

The Farrelly Brothers, Peter and Bobby, are renowned for a sense of humour that comes straight from the U-bend, though for my money the real strength of their work lies in an irrepressible penchant for comedy hairdos, or rather hairdon'ts. In their first collaboration, Dumb and Dumber, Jim Carrey wore that goofy mixing-bowl cut that got you duffed up in junior school, while Bill Murray's flapping, squelchy slick of brushed-over quiff in Kingpin assumed a life of its own and arguably deserved an award for Best Haircut in a Supporting Role.

Ben Stiller is the poor lug put at the mercy of a sadistic stylist for the Farrellys' new film, and the helmet-shaped bird's nest which he wears in the movie's prologue makes him look like a reject from Quest for Fire. He plays Ted, a high-school nerd who earns a Prom Night invitation from the coveted and popular Mary (Cameron Diaz) after he defends her mentally disabled brother from a bully. But moments before they are due to leave, Ted has a nasty accident with his zipper. The resulting scrambled mess of metal and scrotum, which the Farrellys generously reveal in unsparing close-up, leaves him incapacitated.

Thirteen years on, we find Ted still agonising over the incident, and nursing his unfulfilled desires for Mary. The zipper incident is the catalyst for Ted's frustration, and is the first in a succession of paranoid concerns that run through the film.

The screenplay (written by the Farrellys with Ed Decter and John J Strauss) is structured around worst-case scenarios that provide some alarming insights into the condition of the modern male psyche. As the film presents it, the most horrific things that can happen to a man are: a) getting a date with the prettiest girl in town and then accidentally mangling your own penis; b) being mistaken for a homosexual and, as a result, c) being forced to participate in homosexual acts.

There are numerous other manifestations of male sexual neurosis which it would be unfair to disclose here, though all of them carry a palpable undertow of fear, either about the vulnerability of the penis, or its capacity to undermine the authority of its owner.

This is a residue from the sex comedies of the late 1970s, specifically the Israeli trilogy of Lemon Popsicle, Going Steady and Hot Bubblegum, which in turn inspired the Porky's series. In those movies, teenage boys attempted to prove their sexual prowess and invariably disgraced themselves, and their intended conquests, in the process.

Although the comedy was fraught with male insecurity, there was traditionally a designated nerd on to whom the bulk of the humiliation could be loaded. If There's Something About Mary represents any progression in this genre, and that in itself may be negligible, then it is that all men are now subject to the same embarrassment. Nerds rule.

The film's male characters are united by their inadequacy, sexual or otherwise. One muddles around on crutches. Another breaks out in raw, pustulent boils and conclusively confirms a link between immorality and a taste for cigars. Pat, a seedy private detective nicely played by Matt Dillon, has a hopelessly clumsy way of misreading the most blatant signals.

When he discovers that any potential boyfriend of Mary's must bond with her disabled brother, he cooks up a pretence to impress her. "I work with retards," he says proudly, not missing a beat.

You might fear for the self-esteem of male film makers who so vigorously bemoan their own gender were it not for the fact that the female characters fare even worse.

It is not that the movie is sexist - indeed, it mounts an argument for love thriving independently of physical beauty, though obviously this is a damn sight easier to achieve when you have Cameron Diaz as your leading lady

It's more that the film is curiously coy about the female sex drive. When it is present, it provides a moment of panic: the only woman here with any discernible libido is Mary's ageing flatmate, whose pendulous, over-tanned breasts Pat glimpses through his binoculars.

As in Kingpin, the threat of any woman whose age and body deviate from the guidelines set out by the Pirelli calendar provokes male hysteria; the suggestion that this woman may also still enjoy sex is too disturbing to be processed as anything other than horror.

As the Farrellys would have it, a man's worst enemies are his penis and his mother. No wonder most of the male characters here are chasing Mary, who smiles a lot and has a spring in her step but is essentially a witless, non-threatening, feather-brained Barbie doll.

Cameron Diaz is a joyful actress but her charisma is squeezed out here because she is forced to play bystander; an actress cannot live on reaction shots alone. Even in scenes which verge on the dramatic, Mary is nudged around on the whim of whichever man happens to be commanding her attention.

Her single moment of realisation, when she discovers that it was Ted who hired Pat to trace her whereabouts, only arises when a rival suitor sends an anonymous letter. She is so passive that she is practically catatonic. Opportunities for potential triumph are repeatedly snatched from her. After meeting Ted and engaging in small-talk, she rebuffs his suggestion of meeting up to rake over old times with the acidic rejoinder "Didn't we just do that?"

But do not panic, boys, because your hang-ups are safe in Mary's hands: she is only kidding. Even the title is a red herring, for it actually transpires that there's nothing about Mary - nothing at all. Now that is what I call a gross-out.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness