THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY - DVD review

I can't think of a movie produced in the last five years that has made me laugh harder.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

I'll say it again: Comedy is a funny thing. What is uproarious to one person may bore or even insult another. Guaranteed, the Farrelly brothers' 1998 comedy "There's Something About Mary" offers something to offend nearly everyone. For the most part it's sophomoric; it's politically incorrect; it's exaggerated and overdone; and it's trivial. Yet taken in the right spirit, it's as hilarious as anything ever filmed. If you are one of the few people in the civilized world who hasn't seen or heard about this film, you have been forewarned and encouraged.

Since for me the movie gets funnier the more times I see it, this latest, two-disc, special edition DVD set is the perfect medium for owning it. Not only do we get the original theatrical version of the film at 118 minutes, we get a new, extended version, "There's Something (More) About Mary," with about thirteen minutes of added material, plus a host of extras, making the experience even funnier than ever.

The picture stars Ben Stiller as Ted Stroehmann, a man infatuated from high school with the girl of his dreams, Mary Jensen Matthews. And who wouldn't be smitten by Cameron Diaz as Mary. Her character is gorgeous, perky, vivacious, charming, unaffected, and smart. But pity poor Ted. Their first date is a disaster, culminating in a wholly distasteful and totally riotous scene that involves his zipper and Mary's bathroom, a scene that will either have you doubled over and falling out of your chair or reaching for the eject button on your disc player. This was the first of a dozen times in the film I almost fell out of my chair.

Ted becomes obsessed with Mary. For the next thirteen years he remains single, pining for her every minute. But she has long since packed up and moved away. He finally decides to do something about his situation by hiring a sleazy private eye named Patrick Healy to track her down. Healy is played to delicious effect by Matt Dillon as a scruffy lowlife who will do anything for a buck. Dillon is perfect in tacky clothes and seedy mustache; never underestimate this actor. When Healy finds Mary in Florida, she has become an orthopedic surgeon, she's still single, and she's more beautiful than ever. Naturally, he falls for her, too.

The rest of the movie is a battle over who is going win Mary's hand. Chris Elliott plays Dom, Ted's best friend, who helps Ted in his quest. Lee Evans plays Tucker, one of Mary's patients, a snobby architect with a broken back. W. Earl Brown plays Warren, Mary's mentally challenged brother. (Nothing is off limits in this film.) Lin Shaye plays Magda, Mary's next-door neighbor, a woman who has been in the sun so long she looks like a well-worn leather wallet. And finally there's the dog, Puffy, who gets perhaps the funniest scenes in the movie. W.C. Fields had good reason to hate small dogs and children; they'll upstage you every time. And, yes, and you'll be reminded of Nat "King" Cole and Stubby Kaye as the two balladeers who keep turning up every few minutes in "Cat Ballou." A couple of similar strolling minstrels (Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkins) keep showing up here, too, complementing the screwball atmosphere of the proceedings.

If the film has any fault that might keep it from entering the highest echelons of classic screen comedy, it is that it's mostly a series of set pieces, elaborate gags with only the flimsiest excuse of a plot to hold them together. But the gags themselves are individually so funny, I doubt most viewers will care that the film does not create a particularly cohesive whole. I can't think of a movie produced in the last five years that has made me laugh harder or made me press the pause button on my remote more often to clear my eyes.

Video:
This time out Fox present their film in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, a little wider than their first DVD version. In addition, while I thought the first version seemed softly faded, the hues slightly bleeding into one another for a while, this new transfer has colors that are deeper and even better focused. A check of the bit rate indicated that the first version was actually higher, but because it was not apparently enhanced for widescreen TVs as this new transfer is, it doesn't look as good. What's more, the new version displays fewer jittery lines, fewer moiré effects. All in all, this new transfer is first-rate exceptional.

Audio:
The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and again it provides clean, clear signals to all five speakers and subwoofer. Not that all the channels are used that much, but when they are--say, for ambient car noises, helicopters, and background music--their influence can be felt. Deepest bass is not so prominent, but balance, dynamics, and stereo spread are excellent.

Extras:
Now, for more good news. The Fox studios labeled their first DVD a "special edition," and it did, indeed, contain a few genuinely important attractions. Well, now they include those same bonuses plus a lot more to fill out two full discs. Disc one contains two widescreen presentations, the original 118-minute theatrical version and the new, 130-minute extended version. I'm not convinced the extended version is any funnier, but if you haven't seen it, start with it. Additionally, the Fox people are helpful enough to note in the scene selections menu just which chapters contain extended material. Then, there are two audio commentaries. The first one is with the Farrelly brothers, who, as I discovered while reviewing "Kingpin," are two very amusing fellows in their own right, so be sure to run through the show again listening to their notes. The second one is with the writers, Ed Decter and John J. Strauss, which I decided to save for another day. For fun you can also play an alternative, clay-animated title sequence, with or without commentary. It's silly but cute. To polish off the first disc you'll find thirty scene selections; English, French, and Spanish, spoken languages; and English and Spanish subtitles.

Disc two contains at least as much material as the first disc. We start with what the packaging says is a new, forty-three minute behind-the-scenes diary, "Getting Behind Mary." By my timing it's more like fifty- minute documentary, with the cast and crew telling you everything you could want to know about the production. Next, there's an AMC Backstory, "There's Something About Mary," twenty minutes, and a Comedy Central Reel Comedy, "There's Something About Mary," twenty-one minutes. After that is a "Best Fight" Award bit (Ben Stiller and Puffy the Dog), with parodies of ILM's computer-graphics department. Then, there's a "Marketing Mary" segment with a theatrical trailer, posters, and TV spots for the film. That's followed by fourteen minutes worth of cast interviews, "Exposing Themselves," with Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller, and Chris Elliott; and eleven minutes of interviews with the balladeers, Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkins, "Up a Tree."

Then, there's a series of short featurettes: "Behind the Zipper," on the, uh, first big gag; "Puffy, Boobs and Balls," on Lin Shaye's makeup as Magda; "Franks and Beans," with W. Earl Brown; "Touchdown," with Brett Farve; and "Interview Roulette," with Harland Williams (the movie's serial killer). Lastly, there are foreign language clips, "Around the World With Mary," the end scene in eight different languages, each selected via the audio button; a music video, "Every Day Should Be a Holiday," with the Dandy Warhols; a karaoke video of the closing song, "Buttercup"; and three-and-half minutes worth of outtakes. Only these last few items were included on the first edition, so there's more than enough new stuff to keep you busy.

Parting Thoughts:
I doubt that anyone who sees this film will ever again think of hair gel in quite the same way. Nor will you be able to keep back tears of laughter after the third or fourth time you've watched it. Just try to keep an open mind and not be too offended by jokes involving mental and physical disabilities, race relations, homosexuality, serial killing, sex, masturbation, profanity, and incinerated canines. The Farrelly brothers' track record has been spotty: "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin," "Me, Myself & Irene," 'Osmosis Jones," and "Shallow Hal" had their ups and downs. "There's Something About Mary" is all ups. Everyone loves Mary.

Ratings

Video
9
Audio
8
Extras
9
Film Value
8