Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Sometimes, the title says it all. Name subtlety is for art house films and froufrou documentaries; if the Farrelly Brothers are masterminding the film, you can bet the title will be straightforward enough to describe the premise exactly without throwing in any frilly metaphors or double entendres. In the case of Dumb and Dumber, the title referred not only to the movie's main characters but also to the level of humor likely to be present throughout. Don't say they didn't warn you--it's exactly what it says on the label.
The movie's premise and content was, as it claimed, pretty dumb. My mother continues to use Dumb and Dumber as a reference point for all other slapstick films she is unlikely to enjoy based on their juvenile humor and lack of Lifetime movie tearjerking circumstances. Her use of the movie as a scale of stupidity isn't without its merits, though the rest of us did enjoy Dumb and Dumber. Nevertheless, she grumbled through the theatrical showing in 1994 and at every subsequent slapstick comedy trailer in the interim years. I don't believe I can count the number of times I've had to respond to "Is this going to be like Dumb and Dumber?" Apparently its dumbness was memorable enough to build the movie its own dreaded comedic category in our household movie selection process.
Dumb and Dumber is a quintessential example of a gross-out comedy, playing everything for laughs. It's not without its heartfelt and sincere moments, but for the most part the movie sacrifices all else in the name of the almighty punchline. Based on the movie's immense popularity, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dumb and Dumber reiterates the notion that sometimes a comedy can just be a comedy: pure, unadulterated fun punctuated with near-incessant jokes and broad stroke concepts that boil down to nothing weightier than an audience guffaw or two. It's not high art, certainly, but its humor proved enough of a draw to pull in major box office numbers.
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels costar as Lloyd and Harry, a limousine driver and pet washer respectively who live together in an apartment that can flatteringly be referred to as a dump. Lloyd has a gig driving the beautiful Mary (Carrey's now ex-wife Lauren Holly) to the airport and becomes highly distraught to find that she left her fancy briefcase on the floor of the crowded airport terminal. Determined to reunite his attractive client with her misplaced luggage, Lloyd retrieves the case. Lloyd is unsurprisingly unaware of the money-filled briefcase's role as ransom to appease Mary's husband's kidnappers and thus bungles the entire scheme, blissfully ignorant of his misdoings the full way through.
In typical 90s comedy fashion, the whole set-up is a spiraling mess of misunderstandings and bumbling interventions, leading to generically villainous bad guys in hot pursuit of our generally oblivious lead characters. The good guys are good only in the sense that they are painstakingly trusting and bafflingly innocent; Harry and Lloyd are by no means heroic. They're just a couple of guys who managed to get themselves into the wrong place at the wrong time, but their buffoonish lack of reason protects them from realizing potential danger and harm.
Through a series of unfortunate and probably foreseeable circumstances, Harry and Lloyd find themselves unemployed and out of luck. The comedic premise may be formulaic, but it effectively gets us from point A to point B. The intended thug recipients of the briefcase mistakenly suspect Lloyd and Harry to be some sort of secret agents, break into their apartment, and commit some very unfortunate parakeetacide. Lloyd comes up with the brilliant plan to track down Mary in Aspen--the destination of the flight to which he drove her by limo and collected her apparently forgotten briefcase. They hop into the grooming site Sheepdog van and embark on a quest of misadventures.
All sorts of humorous elements go awry, and our eponymously dumb protagonists end up slumming it to Aspen on a crappy motorbike. They have a run-in at a diner with the bad guys, but as expected they manage to subvert their advances through total lack of awareness. The duo opens the briefcase and quickly begins the process of replacing the cold hard cash with warm soft IOUs.
Lloyd and Harry do miraculouly manage to track down Mary, and hilarity predictably ensues. They vie for Mary's nonexistent affection, both mistakenly interpreting her kindness as romantic advances. It all culminates in a final hotel room showdown in which our famously dumb friends somehow manage to outsmart the bad guy goons and play an active role in reuniting Mary with her captive husband. All's not totally well that ends well, though: Harry and Lloyd reiterate their stupidity by misinterpreting and declining a once-in-a-dumb-lifetime opportunity to work as oil boys for the Hawaiian Tropic model tour bus. Tough break.
The entire movie seems rooted in the comedic tradition of rapid succession jokes and gags. They may be hit or miss, but they come skyrocketing toward the audience with such transitionless speed that we quickly forget the flops and focus on the winners. The plot is almost peripheral to the thrust of the film: the major focus is on rapid-fire punchlines. That's okay, though; unlike my mother with her intense hatred of this film, most of go to see comedies with the expectation that they will make us laugh. We don't need character development and profound conflict resolution. All it takes is a slew of jokes funny of us to distract us from the film's glaring flaws and we're happy to roll with it. If you're the type who finds plot holes and inconsistency hair-tearingly bothersome, slapstick comedy in this vein is probably not for you. For the rest of us, though, Dumb and Dumber is a great exercise in learning to just laugh it off.