I love Dumb and Dumber. It is exactly what it purports to be, much like the recent Peter Farrelly outing Movie 43, and nails down its markers with a gleeful affection for the truly stupid. Calling a picture like Dumb and Dumber stupid (or calling a picture like Movie 43 crass and indecent) should be seen as the apex of compliments.
This 1994 buddy comedy is written and directed by both Peter and Bobby Farrelly and would become a cult classic – and for good reason. It is among the most quotable comedies, perfect for the Internet meme generation, yet it is more than a collation of funny scenes and memorable moments. There’s a beating heart at the centre of Dumb and Dumber and the movie’s wily approach to absurdity is worth noting.
Jim Carrey stars as Lloyd Christmas and Jeff Daniels stars as Harry Dunne. The two dim-witted main characters live in Rhode Island and have worked a series of dead-end jobs for a long, long time. They have nothing to show for themselves, so when Lloyd meets Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly) while driving her to the airport, he knows he’s found love.
Lloyd thinks he’s doing her a solid when he picks up a briefcase he believes she’s left behind, unwittingly setting off a chain of events that includes a road trip to Aspen (the Colorado one) with Harry and more than a few run-ins with a pair of thugs (Mike Starr and Karen Duffy). Harry and Lloyd find themselves in over their heads, but their innate foolishness keeps them from realizing it.
In today’s market where even superhero movies are treated with the solemnity of Schindler’s List, it’s revitalizing to look back in time to see what real absurdity looks like. The French were (and are) more than capable of developing the intelligent side of stupidity with countless slapstick misadventures (like Pierre Etaix’s underrated and under-seen films), but the American slapstick tradition seems locked in a time capsule.
Dumb and Dumber may not be as “classically good” as pictures like Airplane! and Blazing Saddles, two titans in the absurd comedy tradition, but it is a charmingly funny throwback to the nyucks of the Three Stooges and other vaudevillian comics from the 30s, 40s and 50s. The pratfalls come from the chemical makeup of the characters, while the humour comes from the realization that there’s very little Harry and Lloyd can do right.
Dumb and Dumber is the nexus of silliness and cunning, of course. It forces the issue and locks the audience in to a bombardment of fart jokes, dead birds, Cam Neely-related hijinks, hot peppers, funny suits that have doubtlessly shown up at many a high school prom, and a late bathroom gag that had me in disastrous stitches.
Amid all the gags and jokes, it’s easy to root for Harry and Lloyd. They aren’t loathsome or abusive characters and they mean well. The duo’s greatest feat (and the film’s funniest set-up) comes when they manage to fool the crooks on their trail that they’re clever and highly-trained criminals in their own right. Dumb and Dumber’s use of happy accidents to prompt a smokescreen of ingenuity is pure brilliance.
As I said, I love this movie. It is not the best comedy I’ve ever seen, but it makes no efforts to be. The Farrelly brothers, Carrey, Daniels, and Holly simply lose themselves in the procedure and the intelligence of chasing the very stupid. And boy, are the rewards ever sweet.