As much as we all hate to admit it now, there was once a period in time when we found Ben Stiller to be funny. We even thought that movies featuring Ben Stiller — especially comedies — were funny. In fact, we raved about them. One such hit was There’s Something About Mary, the 1998 comedy from the Farrelly Brothers (Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin) wherein the big-eared funnyman co-starred along with several other big-eared funnymen (Matt Dillon, Lee Evans, Harland Williams, etc. — my God, this movie has an awful lot of ears!) and Mary herself, Cameron Diaz.
Mary’s story was relatively simple. A hapless schnook named Ted (Ben Stiller) attempts to find Mary (Diaz), the idyllic woman from his past. Unfortunately for Ted, Mary is one of those gals whose blinding aura is so powerful that men do the darndest things… men like Healy (Matt Dillon, the real male lead here — and one of the few good roles the poor guy’s ever had). Healy’s the total sleazeball Ted hired to find Mary. Upon discovering Mary (and her perky nipples — which are always poking through her shirt), Healy decides she’s too grand of a gal to be with a moron like Ted (and she probably is). Chris Elliott turns in his best performance since Cabin Boy as Ted’s hive-ridden friend, Dom.
As I said, There’s Something About Mary has a simple premise. Nevertheless, the movie managed to break the barriers of the box office (not to mention the barriers of good taste) by taking the lowbrow and often gross-out humor of the Farrelly Brothers and pushing it into mainstream cinema. A testicle gets caught in a zipper. A dog is drugged, dies, and is revived via a lamp (only to be placed in a body cast from being given speed later). And, in that now famous moment, sperm is mistakenly used for hair gel. We found it exceptional. We found it funny (as we found Ben Stiller funny). We also found it to be a very welcome change of pace. And we’ve been dealing with dumb lowbrow comedies ever since. I myself remember laughing out loud over Mary’s antics, but, after having watched it again 11 years later, it feels mildly tame — even compared to what plays on Saturday morning television. C’est la vie, I guess.