A Focus on Filmmakers and Storytellers : How The Farrelly Brothers Fail To Get Their Story Straight On Love And Marriage

Posted: July 13, 2013 by Kiki Malone in Film Reviews, Kiki Malone
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My thinking towards film recently shifted. Or, perhaps I should say, my approach to selecting films – either to purchase or view – has become less about genres or performers and much more about directors or producers. John Hughes and Judd Apatow are primarily responsible for such focus, as well as Sophia Coppola and Quentin Tarantino. But, to a slightly lesser degree, a few of my favorite horror filmmakers – Lucky McKee, Ti West, Rob Zombie, Alexandre Aja, Craven and Carpenter and Hooper – also piqued my interest in the stories filmmakers tell.

Two filmmakers I hope soon to explore are Nora Ephron and Noah Baumbach. Long ago, before film became more than a way to pass time with friends or to help endure a bad case of strep throat, I somehow managed to watch all of Ephron’s films, but I do not remember them as well as I’d like. And I’ve never seen a single title by Baumbach. As geeky as it sounds, I’d like to systematically work through Ephron and Baumbach’s filmographies this summer, piecing together an overarching narrative from the various stories they each told in film. I do not expect the connecting lines to be neat, but with a careful eye some sort of connection will surely come into focus between titles.

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For instance, today I watched two films by the Farrelly brothers: The Heartbreak Kid (2007) and Hall Pass (2011). I did not intend to commit myself to a double-feature. But one film seemed to so seamlessly bleed into the other that I really had no choice.

If you’re not familiar, the Farrelly brothers’ The Heartbreak Kid is a remake of Elaine May’s 1972 comedy of the same title featuring a young Cybil Shepherd. In the Farrelly remake, a nearly middle aged bachelor named Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller) finally takes the marital plunge when he meets the irresistibly beautiful and charming Lila (Malin Akerman). Ironically, Cantrow’s fears of marriage quickly manifest when Lila “flips a switch” almost immediately at their wedding, becoming less than appealing with every new secret revealed. Matters only complicate further when, on his honeymoon, Eddie meets the irresistibly beautiful and charming Miranda (Michelle Monaghan). New sparks fly, hilarity ensures (thanks mostly to Rob Corddry and Danny McBride), and the awkwardness is deliciously unavoidable. The Heartbreak Kid received massively polarized reviews on Netflix, and I fall into the thumbs-up camp on this one. Though not a classic like the Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, The Heartbreak Kid was super funny and I greatly preferred Akerman to Diaz – not a tough comparison to make when Akerman’s on screen with Stiller. I give The Heartbreak Kid 3.5 bush rings out of 5.

But the story in The Heartbreak Kid is typically anti-marriage. Love wins in the end, but commitment is the anchor holding back boats from greater adventure. And this is why, immediately after The Heartbreak Kid, I launched into Hall Pass: the former commenting on relationships before and at the beginning of marriage, the latter a decade or more into the wear and tear of marriage.

Hall Pass (2011) tells the highly predictable story of two husbands (Jason Sudekis and Owen Wilson) given a week long hall pass away from the boundaries of marriage by their wives (Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer). Of course, as we expect, the husbands fall apart, the wives somewhat thrive, but both parties soon realize their truest love for their spouses, at which point – three minutes before final credits – they gleefully and willingly return to routines of children and responsibilities and familiar sex. It’s slightly funny, kinda dirty, but never bodacious enough to push real buttons or convince viewers that either of these marriages are remotely in danger. Still, Stephen Merchant and Richard Jenkins offer supporting roles and make the entire film worth the effort. I give Hall Pass 2 exploding thongs out of 5.

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I would never expect filmmakers to hold or express a congruent view of something as socially arbitrary as marriage over the course of four years, but you gotta wonder what the hell these Farrelly brothers were thinking: The Heartbreak Kid suggests that marriage is the death of adventure and surprise and romance, while Hall Pass claims that men desperately need to find good wives and commit to good marriages in order to save themselves from their own innate immaturity and emptiness. In both films, men are greatly broken creatures. However, in the former film, woman breaks man further while in the latter woman offers man’s salvation. You have to wonder after looking at both films, WT-and-F?

I’m not sure exactly what we as viewers should take away from the marital dichotomy in these two very opposite films, or if we should take anything at all – other than a few good one-liners. But it’s this confused commentary, whether intentional or not, that I find interesting. And it’s these consistencies and inconsistencies that I’m anxious to look for in the films of Baumbach and Ephron. It’s funny when looking at the landscape of just these four filmmakers – the Farrelly brothers, Noah Baumbach, Nora Ephron – they’re all telling something of the same story: mankind both requires and wrestles with love. How that love is portrayed or delivered changes per story and storyteller’s hand, but the stories from these tellers always point back that same theme of requiring and wrestling love. And I’ve reached the place, as a movie lover and film geek, where that line of connection and disconnection now fascinates me even more than the films themselves.

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Comments
  1. barberjo says:

    I’ve got a buddy (whose opinions on films are ones that I value very much) who despises films about adultery. He’s not a Bible-thumping zealot, it’s just that that issue really rattles him. So, he can’t stand movies like THE ENGLISH PATIENT (which I love). Looking at a filmmaker’s view of marriage is really interesting. I certainly think that Ephron and Baumbach would have interesting things to say (I’m pretty sure I don’t care what the Farrelly brothers have to say on the subject).

    But I really adore the idea of taking a director’s entire oeuvre and going piece by piece with it. I’ve done that with Terry Gilliam and I’m doing it now with Sidney Lumet. Instead of taking stock of a filmmaker by one effort, you get to see the ebb and flow of their worldview.

  2. kmriad says:

    Ben Stiller has lost his appeal, as inexplicable as it was to begin with, and the more he puts out these comedies, the more I scratch my head. You and I discussed this in text. That the supporting actors tend to be the more amusing, funnier players and you have to endure Ben Stiller to get to him. I suppose Owen Wilson could be thrown into that mix now as well. Jason Sudekis, or however the hell you spell that (i didn’t feel like looking it up) was more entertaining in Hall Pass. Maybe that’s why movie makers are going after novels and comic books now. But the rest of the crap is just crap. Especially after having seen THE HEAT and knowing there could be really good comedies out there, these Farrelly movies just fee like a waste of time. Good thing you got them on the cheap.

    • Kiki Malone says:

      The good news is that I will receive more in trade value for my Farrelly bros. films than what I paid for them. I’ve essentially made a profit off their movies, which might be more than they can say for themselves.

  3. mwerntz says:

    On the small screen, this is why Sarah and I enjoy PARENTHOOD so much: it tells the truth about fidelity and marriage, acknowledging that we both need fidelity and love, and these things are hard. There’s lots of love in the Hand reviews these days.

  4. Latonya says:

    I’m so glad I get to “wrestle love” with you and that ours is not a Hollywood version of marriage but a God centered one.

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