While opinions may differ concerning the merits of Farrelly brothers films, at the end of the day, they have proved to be one of the most successful producing, directing and writing partnerships of comedies in recent years. They have, in the past, proved to be box-office gold; There’s Something About Mary, for instance, grossed (no pun intended) $176 million in the US alone, froma budget of $23 million. Similarly Dumb and Dumber, from a budget of $16 million, went on to take $246 million worldwide. These kind of figures give the brothers significant clout in Hollywood, and allows them a relative freedom to pick and choose what projects they like.
They have, however, only enjoyed moderate success in recent years; Shallow Hal and Me, Myself and Irene took some money, but Stuck on You and Fever Pitch have both struggled since their respective releases. In need of a hit, then, they have turned to remaking a 1972 classic comedy, originally starring Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd. Here lies one of the first problems; Charles Grodin in one of the great underrated comedy performers: one needs only to think of his wonderful turn opposite Robert DeNiro in Midnight Run to remember this. Ben Stiller’s comedy style is different; he is at his best playing rather creepy characters, such as Derek Zoolander, or Dodgeball’s White Goodman, characters you are not supposed to empathise with. In The Heartbreak Kid, his role is of a 40-year old loser in love who we are meant to feel sorry for; however, both the script and Stiller’s performance erase any sympathy the audience might have for the character within the first 20 minutes. He is extremely shallow and self-centred, and we are supposed to believe that he has met his soul mate simply because they have a chat together that lasts longer than 30 seconds. This can work as a nice setup for comedy situations; for instance, i am always intensely irritated by Andie MacDowell’s character in Groundhog Day, yet am prepared to go along with Bill Murray’s obsession with her simply because it is a device for his situation to be exploited. Here, however, it falls more than a little flat.
Of course, this being a Farrelly brothers movie, there are the standard gross-out parts, but even these feel rather subdued, given what we’ve come to expect from them, though as the BBFC website points out there are ‘sado masochistic acts and bestiality’. Elsewhere, the laughs are few and far between, though there is the odd chuckle here and there; not enough for a comedy film though, which, let’s face it, is there to make you laugh. For such a seemingly simple setup, the narrative is surprisingly muddled, which doesn’t help the viewer have any coherent sense of what the film’s intent is. Nice bit of Bowie on the soundtrack, though. It does appear, though, that this is not the film to relaunch the Farrelly brothers’ careers; grossing only $14 million in its first weekend, it will probably struggle to recoup its budget. Next up for them is a film of The Three Stooges, maybe this will be an appropriate vehicle for their talents.