When we say a movie is influential, it’s normally meant as a compliment; fans point back to films like Alien, Die Hard, or The Manchurian Candidate to give them credit for inspiring entire genres, and sometimes even schools of thought for subsequent filmmakers. In the case of 1998’s There’s Something About Mary, however, “influential” has a decidedly negative connotation – which is understandable, given the sea of shitty gross-out comedies that Mary spawned, but still unfortunate, because as much as excessive repetition may have numbed us to its original impact, it was one of the funniest comedies of the ’90s – and it remains the best thing the Farrelly brothers have ever done.
The Farrellys, following up on Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin, retained the cringe-derived humor of their earlier films for Mary, but for the first (and arguably last) time, they built their story around characters, as opposed to caricatures – and cast a pair of perfect leads in Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz. In fact, Stiller and Diaz worked so well in their roles that they’ve basically continued playing variations on them ever since; if you look at the trailer for their movies now and groan, it’s because There’s Something About Mary proved that audiences would pony up to see Stiller fumble through horrifically uncomfortable situations, and that they couldn’t get enough of Diaz as a naïve, doe-eyed hottie with a heart of gold.
Here, Stiller plays Ted Stroehmann, a writer whose greatest regret is the fact that he was robbed of a prom date with his high school crush, Mary Jensen, after accidentally mutilating himself in her bathroom. (If you’ve somehow never seen it, the details won’t be spoiled here; suffice it to say you’ll never think of the phrase “frank and beans” the same way.) Thirteen years later, Ted summons the nerve to hire an investigator (Matt Dillon) to track down Mary, setting in motion a chain of events in which Ted finally makes a play for his long-lost love, despite the interference of numerous embarrassing events – and competition from everyone from Dillon to a certain former NFL quarterback.
If you can force yourself to forget about what came after it, Mary remains an enjoyably filthy (and sweet) comedy, filled with laugh-out-loud moments. It’s best remembered for its most shocking bits – the “hair gel” sequence probably most of all – but if that were all it had going for it, Mary wouldn’t be any better than the rest of the dreck the Farrellys have squeezed out in the last 11 years. It would be overly generous to say the screenplay has depth, but it does boast something like it; this is a movie that lets Matt Dillon utter the immortal line “I work with retards” and gives us a scene in which his character injures a football field full of special needs players (then taunts them with “Exceptional, my ass!”), but gets more laughs out of good old-fashioned physical gags (like W. Earl Brown cold-cocking Dillon in the throat) or absurdist humor (like Jonathan Richman’s recurring musical cameos). It wouldn’t be as funny if it didn’t kick at the boundaries of good taste, but it’d still be able to stand on its own – which is something that most of Mary‘s imitators, not to mention the Farrellys themselves, forgot later on.
It’s certainly a movie worth revisiting periodically, and among the many catalog titles now reaching Blu-ray, There’s Something About Mary would seem to be one of the more sensible choices for the budding hi-def enthusiast. It obviously isn’t the type of film you’re going to buy to test the limits of your home theater equipment – the Farrellys never met a screenplay they couldn’t shoot like a sitcom, and the audio track is at least two-thirds straight dialogue – but Mary‘s jump to Blu-ray has to come with some cool extra content that makes it worth owning, right?
Unfortunately, no. Though the Mary Blu-ray does pack a long list of extra features, including multiple commentary tracks, an extended cut, outtakes, a music video, and many, many featurettes, all of it is held over from the deluxe DVD version that was released in 2003. Essentially, Fox is charging you an extra $5 for a 1080p transfer that, while definitely noticeable, isn’t far enough removed from the DVD to justify the added expense – nor is the 5.1 DTS HD audio upgrade. Ultimately, like far too many catalog Blu-ray titles on the market, Mary seems to have been released in order to fill a gap on retail shelves – or, depending on how cynical you are, to dupe owners of new Blu-ray players into spending more than they need to on something they probably already own. Either way, there’s nothing about this Mary that’s worth paying to see. -Jeff Giles