Film: The Big Picture - Mary, Mary quite amenable

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (18) DIRECTORS: PETER AND BOBBY FARRELLY 119 MINS STARRING CAMERON DIAZ, MATT DILLON AND BEN STILLER

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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine