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There’s something about a beautiful girl that will make even the most educated of men act dumb. And dumber still is what lengths these men will go through so as not to appear dumb. And dumber yet is the outrageous behavior and lavish sums of money spent to prove they are in fact not dumb. And dumber are the men who believe these wild flights of fancy will win these women over. Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) are not one of these educated men and are, by any definition, already dumb. And dumber doesn’t even come close to recounting their adventures in tracking down a gorgeous girl named Samsonite (actually, Mary) who Lloyd has fallen head over heels, literally . . . out of a jetway. She thinks she’s made a ransom drop for her kidnapped husband, but Lloyd thinks she’s misplaced her briefcase. He also thinks Austrians are from Australia, but we can’t know everything, right?
This low-brow road trip comedy pits our pea-brained heroes against the smothering onslaught of common sense and basic human social interaction. At every turn, they face impossible odds, fending off rudimentary reading skills and general good taste. Yet, along the way, as it would happen, they convince a set of hit men (well, one’s a hit-girl, so maybe, hit-people) working for the baddy holding Samsonite’s (actually, Mary’s) husband, that they in fact are geniuses and more psychopathic than they are because . . . movie logic.
After making their way to snowy Aspen, Harry and Lloyd, who are now more broke and homeless than they normal, are forced to spend a bit of the ransom money . . . just until they can find the girl and return her cash. That’s a promise. They agree to take only what they need and leave I.O.U.’s for what they take. They’re good for it. They’re word is their bond. So, first things first, they gotta sleep. The Presidential Suite in the city’s most expensive hotel is the obvious choice. Why not? And they need some new threads. Pastel orange and blue tuxedos with matching top hats and canes (which make excellent swords) make things dapper. And you don’t expect ’em to walk, do you? A fire engine red Lamborghini Diablo will do the trick. Oh, and tip the servants? Of course. A hundred bucks a pop. For the mall. Nothing to it. I.O.U.’s baby!
What else happens? We meet a motorcycle cop who drinks Lloyd’s pee from a beer bottle. An assassin meets his end via atomic hot peppers. Harry sets himself on fire while getting a girl’s phone number, (who, by the way, does in fact own both skis on the roof rack of her car!) A parakeet looses its head and an owl takes a champagne cork to the face for the species. And loses.
Nostalgia plays a big part in the our memories of Dumb and Dumber, a comedy that gave Jim Carrey even more exposure for his unique brand of wild, rubbery comedy stylings, first honed in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. A smash hit, its absurd characters are bordering on offensive but somehow remain approachable, keeping audiences (and a lot of critics) in on the joke for the whole journey. In their debut, the Farrelly Brothers set the standard for the newest wave of juvenile romantic comedies, inspiring countless knock-offs and a few more hits of their own. As evidenced by the astonishing success of the sequel some 20 years later, it seems audiences–worn down from the horde of dark, oppressive themes of current movies–are missing the fun-filled days of potty jokes and gross-out gags. Good on them.
Scene Setup: Once in Aspen, Lloyd and Harry finally find Mary at a preservation society gala. Too terrified to actually talk to her, Lloyd goads Harry into telling her all about him. But whoops, Harry ends up getting a date with her himself. After Lloyd discovers he’s been duped, he sets up an epic revenge plot. TURBO LAXATIVE.
Why it matters: If we’re gonna talk about the defining moment in Dumb and Dumber, there is no other thing to discuss than this. Yes, the film has several good gags, some that still hold up even after twenty years. The headless parakeet, the salt shaker pay-off, the most annoying sound in the world, and of course, a bus full of bikini girls. But none reach the heights, or rather lows, of a full bottle of liquid laxative gulped up in a cup of coffee. Savage to say the least, the fury at which this stool-loosening elixir does its magic is both harrowing and hilarious. Sure, this movie would never have been a success without the hysterical physical animations of Jim Carrey, but it’s the against-type casting of Jeff Daniels that pulls of the funniest moment in the movie.
More: The Farrelly Brothers have a reputation for making some of the crudest films in cinema history. The charming yet envelope-pushing There’s Something About Mary was a national conversation for months after its release. Me, Myself and Irene was not quite as successful but was equally bawdy and even a little controversial as they cast Carrey again, but this time as a seriously deranged man with some obvious mental issues. All of their films go for the jugular though, setting up gags that are both repulsive and funny (mostly). With Dumb and Dumber, they created a new kind of genre, where the comedy didn’t rely on mounds of naked bouncing boobs and goofy teenage recklessness, (there’s no nudity, save for a quick bare butt cheek). There’s practically zero profanity as well, at least in comparison to the average film of this like. The movie gets nearly all of its laughs from shock and there plenty of them. From insulting the elderly to taking advantage of a blind boy. Yet somehow it never feels offensive and because the leads are just plain dumb, there’s a kind of innocence to it all that is a bit surprising, given its nature. Even here, as poor Harry is in the throes of uncontrolled incontinence, he giggles. Let’s watch:
We like surprises, especially in movies. Take us somewhere new, some place different, or better yet, lead us to the familiar and spin it around. Make us feel a sense of wonder, that we’re experiencing something never seen before. Twenty years ago, that’s what Dumb and Dumber felt like. It was fresh, outrageous, depraved, and starred the new king of zany, Jim Carrey. Yes, we admitted in public it was stupid, that because of it and other ignorant films of the times, society was crumbling, that civilization was ending and the age of intellect was dead. But secretly, we quoted it endlessly, we rented it ceaselessly, and held it dear as one of our favorite go-to funny films. It’s why everyone rushed to the theater to see the sequel. It hasn’t aged well of course. Several jokes fall flat, some scenes seem out of place, there are some strange moments, and a few pop culture references that date it. It’s just not as funny as it was before. It’s the same reason why we can’t possibly laugh at a Charlie Chaplin film the way those who saw it first did. Times changes, sensibilities and influences make what was once new feel stale. Sure, we revisit it, hoping it will make us feel good a again. Some of it does. And it doesn’t mean it can’t be remembered fondly.
But about those strange moments. There are several. Most particularly with Lloyd. We have no illusions about the ambitions of the creators of Dumb and Dumber, who clearly had some ideas for laughs and built scenes around them. There is no larger picture to be looking at, and there can be no believing that there is a message waiting to be revealed by those diligent enough to go searching. Still, we can’t help but wonder about what a few of these moments reveal.
For instance, Lloyd can’t read. Or at least suffers from a reading disability, preventing him from reading at levels of normal intelligence. That’s a fact. It’s not even suggested. In one scene, he is attempting to read a newspaper but can’t even discern the pronunciation of the word “the” (though is able to read “Mary Swanson” and “meeting”). Harry helps his friend along, treating him specially, even saying, “it’s a big one” when he gets to the word “international.” They’ve clearly done this before. Lloyd even hangs his head in frustration. It’s fleeting, and goes mostly unnoticed as it’s played for a laugh, but might be telling (and perhaps a purposeful hint by the creators) in explaining some of Lloyd’s behaviors. Certainly, people who have reading disabilities are not less intelligent, but Lloyd presents a quandary. Here’s why:
After realizing he’s been stood up by his date, and learning the location of where she lives, Lloyd rushes out of the bar where they were to meet. At the door is a newspaper clipping mounted on the wall. The headline reads: MAN WALKS ON THE MOON. Lloyd reads this effortlessly, even commenting on its significance (which is funny in itself.) But how? Earlier we witnessed him unable to read “the,” yet there it is in the title. Are there select words he can understand? Does he have issues with stress or nervousness? This doesn’t add up though, since later, when he is literally being held at gun point, he picks up a slip of paper from a stack and reads it to the man holding him at bay. How is this possible? But more intriguing is his previous job. If he can’t read even common, single syllable words, how did he pass his chauffeur’s test or drive around the city?
As mentioned in our chosen That Moment In, Lloyd spikes the coffee with laxative. Before doing so, he turns the bottle up and reads the label. How did he know what it was? Did he go to the pharmacy and ask specifically for it? If so, why would he turn the label to read it before pouring into the mug? He even makes a joke about Harry being a “regular” guy.
Earlier, as the boys are driving across the country, they stop at a fill-up station and Lloyd heads to the restroom. While doing his business, he spots some graffiti that advertises “For Manly Love.” Lloyd is quick to understand the message, even the date and time. Clearly not a man with a reading disability.
Now, what’s most interesting about these instances is not so much Lloyd but the presence or lack of presence of Harry. When Lloyd is alone, he can read, but when Harry is around, he can’t. Could this be a gag Lloyd is playing on Harry. We learn in the sequel that Lloyd is willing to commit to 20 years of institutionalization in order to “get” Harry in a prank. Was his reading disability a prank also? Probably not. Most likely, on set while filming the scene, Carrey ad-libbed and Daniels followed along. There are reports of plenty of that happening during filming. The two surely have some spectacular chemistry. Still, it’s an interesting little box of worms. One of many littered throughout.
While its always fun to look back, sometimes it’s best to move on. Dumb and Dumber was a landmark comedy for its time, and paved the way for myriad more like it. It catapulted Carrey into box office superstardom and opened doors that might never have been offered otherwise. Played as a goofy road trip comedy, the film has a lot of dark moments and some serious issues about mental health, friendship, responsibility, and more. But if anything, the longevity of this film is more central to our own association with the characters. We’ve all been dumb before. We trip over things, make silly choices, laugh when we shouldn’t, spend too much, cause a little trouble, and want, like both Harry and Lloyd to have someone in our lives. We don’t often drive a car made to like a sheep dog in chasing that down, but everything in the movie is an exaggeration of all these themes. Is it okay to laugh at explosive potty jokes? Yes. Yes, it is. And it’s okay to remember where we were twenty years ago and look how much we’ve changed. Sometimes we laugh not because of the movie but because of the memories the movie made.
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly (uncredited)
Writers: Peter Farrelly, Bennett Yellin
Stars: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly