Friday, February 8, 2013

Dumb thoughts

My wife and I had each had a rough couple days. Nothing major, in the grand scheme of things, had happened to us, but we felt beset by the types of little to mid-sized things that make you sense the universe is against you.

The things we might ordinarily turn to for a laugh on a weeknight -- sitcoms, which can be consumed quickly in 22 minutes -- were actually one source of our bum mood, as we'd recently learned that two shows we like (Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23 and Ben & Kate) had both been canceled. That's in addition to two other sitcoms (30 Rock and The Office) ending their long runs this spring. (30 Rock has already ended, but we haven't watched the finale yet.)

So I made a command decision Wednesday night: We were going to pop in some comedic comfort food in the form of Dumb and Dumber.

Even though it's one of my favorite comedies of all time, I hadn't owned Dumb and Dumber until a friend bought it for me on BluRay for Christmas. We almost watched it around New Year's, but that moment passed. The moment came up again on Wednesday night.

Ah, comfort food. Is there anything it can't do?

As is often the case when revisiting an old favorite, I'm inspired with a bunch of new thoughts about it. And though some of them seem like continuity nitpicking, don't mistake my mentioning them as something it's not. These little quirks just make me love the movie more.

Aspen dreams

One thing I noticed this time through is that Lloyd's terrific fantasy while falling asleep at the wheel is set in the wrong location.

By that I mean it's set in the actual Aspen, the ski town, not the warm getaway on the California coast Lloyd imagines Aspen to be.

When he first meets Mary while driving her to the Providence airport, Lloyd places Aspen in California rather than Colorado. He still has this impression of it when describing it to Harry later, selling him on its warmth and other idyllic qualities.

You could even say that he keeps this impression on into the fantasy sequence, when he imagines Mary greeting him at the door of her Aspen home on a sunny day in a yellow sundress. However, in the next scene, he's impressing people with his party tricks (which include lighting his farts on fire) while they're sitting in front of a roaring fire and wearing ski sweaters. During the great fight in the restaurant against the waiters and the Chinese chef, snow-capped mountains are clearly visible out the window.

So which is it, Lloyd? California or Colorado?

The Gas Man Cometh

When the heavyset hood Joe reads the note Lloyd and Harry left for the "Gas Man," he mistakenly believes they're professionals who are taunting him. Clearly, they are aware of his flatulence issues, which means they've been following him for weeks.

Yet later on, his ploy for getting to know them better is to pretend he's a motorist broken down by the side of the road, so they'll pick him up as a hitchhiker and he can surreptitiously suss them out.

If they had been following him for weeks, wouldn't they know what he looks like? And if they're professionals who are also armed, wouldn't they just whack him as soon as he came into view alongside the interstate?

No ketchup residue

Not that it really matters, but I noticed that there's no evidence of the squirted condiments Harry and Lloyd use to try extinguish the heat of the peppers they just consumed at the diner. In the very next scene, both they and the surrounding counter are clean.

Who are they, Wile E. Coyote, instantly recovering from the bomb that blew his face into a smoking cinder?

Magic gas

How could Lloyd mistakenly drive 1/6th of the way across the country in the wrong direction without stopping for gas? (And without Harry ever waking up?)

That would be about 500 miles.

Not the version I know

I've seen Dumb and Dumber somewhere between five and eight times, but maybe only three times (including last night) from start to finish. The rest of the viewings have involved catching it on TV and being unable to change the channel until the movie was over. I used to be like that with The Shawshank Redemption as well. For some reason, I think of these as the two movies I can't turn away from if I come across them on TV. 

So it's actually a different version of Dumb and Dumber than this one that I know so well.

There are a couple parts of this movie that lift out easily that TBS (it's always on TBS) has gone ahead and lifted out.

For one, I noticed that the scene in the sleazy motel with hourly rates and hot tubs runs longer than I remembered. There's a whole part where Lloyd talks about what he would do to Harry if he were a woman. And then he calls Harry a homo. It struck me as quite odd. In this case I think TBS' edit is the right choice.

Another moment with potentially homophobic overtones is shown on TV in edited form as well. When Seabass shows up in that Colorado restroom in accordance with instructions left on the bathroom wall in black magic marker, TBS doesn't show him pulling down his pants and showing his leopard print underwear. It wouldn't seem to be any worse than Harry's junk bulging out from his tightie whities while he's wearing the masseuse's outfit, but they leave it out nonetheless -- likely to limit the suggestion of gay sex, and not just to prevent us from seeing Cam Neeley's underwear. (And, a thought I've had every time before -- what the hell is Seabass doing in Colorado?)

There was one other specific moment that I didn't remember, where a post-laxative Harry pulls Mary's broken toilet out of the floor and proceeds to dump the contents out her bathroom window. Another strange thing to leave out, since you don't see any actual cascade of diarrhea.

Harry is Beavis and Lloyd is Butt-head

Not really, but the hair colors work, right?

I do have a serious comparison to make, though. On this viewing I noted that the plot of the surprisingly enjoyable Beavis and Butt-head Do America (which came out two years later) cops liberally from Dumb and Dumber.

Both movies involve a hapless road trip in which the travelers get where they're going through chance and dumb luck. Both movies involve outsiders (cops, criminals) mistaking the main duo as brilliant criminal masterminds, their apparently dumb comments made as an ironic form of derision. And there are those hair colors.

But the moment that actually makes me think most of Beavis and Butt-head when I watch this movie is when the shivering Lloyd and Harry finally pull their moped to a stop in downtown Aspen. "We're there," says Lloyd. Take his tone and add the word "dude" at the end, and you've got something one of the precocious metalheads might say.

The masterful reactions of Lauren Holly

As good as Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are in this movie -- legendary, really -- it was Lauren Holly I couldn't take my eyes off this time around.

Okay, okay, she's an attractive woman. But what I'm going for here is how good her reaction shots are.

Since her character is written as essentially passive, her primary responsibility is to react to the odd behavior of Harry and Lloyd. And she knocks it out of the park.

Either Holly or the Farrelly brothers decided that Mary Swanson was going to be a society woman with snobbish tendencies, but essentially a good person who can be touched by displays of human decency and isn't completely turned off by eccentric characters. She incorporates these traits into each of her reactions, and it makes for an exceptional realization of a possibly underwritten character.

Shall I name some of her triumphs?

There's her reaction to realizing that Harry is referring to the Icelandic snow owls when he walks up to her and comments on her hooters. She tries desperately to keep up a polite facade while stifling a laugh at his clearly unintentional double entendre. She doesn't entirely succeed, and her laugh creeps into the next line. That's no easy thing to do.

There's her bemused pause when Lloyd offers her the explanation that he's shaving, when instead he's trying desperately to fan the fumes of his bowel movement out the window.

There's her dawning realization that she does in fact recognize Lloyd from the Providence limo ride to the airport, and then the slightly different incredulous realization that he is the one who's had her suitcase full of cash.

There's the look of surprised horror when Harry nails her in the face with a snowball at full speed.

And there's the scene where she's handcuffed to Lloyd on the bed, and Harry flanks her on the other side. As the two friends bicker, she turns her head from side to side, registering the exact meaning of the things they're saying in her face in subtle increases and decreases in her level of alarm.

And there are others.

But Holly is not simply reacting effectively. She's engaging in some deceptively agile comedy here as well. Take the scene where Lloyd is basically eating her face as part of his dream sequence -- kissing her so passionately that she must have been unable to breathe during the 10 seconds this shot lingers. Her hands shoot out, fingers splayed, almost like those of a zombie. This is her involuntary reaction to this attack, and it always leaves me in stitches.


Even though I now own Dumb and Dumber on BluRay, don't be surprised if I still watch it through to the end the next time I come across it on TBS.


Mike Lippert said...

Ah it's always nice to see when a grows with you over time as opposed to diminising in personal value as you grow away from it. That's why we love these stupid, time consuming things in the first place after all, isn't it?

Vancetastic said...

The funny thing about this movie is that the comedy is so broad in parts that you would think a discriminating viewer wouldn't really care for it. But broad comedy can be brilliant if done correctly.

Thaddeus said...

Dumb and Dumber is honestly one of the hardest-laughing movies I've ever watched. I remember sitting down to watch this with several friends, and we were almost-violently rolling in our seats; it was hard to catch some of the lines from the crowd erupting into laughter.

You are dead-right to note how funny and fine the lead female's performance is. I give you lots of credit for pointing it out. But I remember Lauren Holly from Picket Fences, so I knew she was a good actress. For me, then, the big surprise was that Jeff Daniels went toe-to-toe with Carrey - who was considered one of the finest comedians at the time. Not before or since have I seen Daniels put in such a relentlessly-comedic role, and even keeping pace with Carrey at his prime was a major accomplishment.

There are tons of reasons to like this movie, and I'm glad you've so neatly highlighted several of the little details/mistakes in this pic.

Vancetastic said...

I wish I'd seen D&D in the theater, but I did not have the foresight. I remember my first reaction to Jim Carrey upon seeing the poster for Ace Ventura was to sniff at him like he was some kind of Howie Mandel hack. In fact, I didn't see any of his movie in the theater until, well, Batman Forever, but the first of HIS movies I saw in the theater was Liar Liar. And I believe I got a good crowd reaction on that.

Thank you for posting, as it allowed me to correct my misspelling of Holly's last name.

You're right to praise Daniels. It WAS a surprise to see him like that, but over the years I have just taken his performance as a given, I guess.

Thaddeus said...

Hey man, I remember that my student dining hall had a music video jukebox that also played ads, and the D&D one played so many times I was dreading it. Went with my friends, and we were rolling in our seats like the old Def Comedy Jam crowds.

NP, regarding Lauren. She's done some modest TV work lately, but it's surprising she didn't do more work. One of many actresses by which Hollywood should've done better...

I've probably seen most of Daniels' roles, and his part here was amazing =)