The Farrelly Brothers have always occupied a special place in my family's
heart. Dumb and Dumber is my youngest son's favorite comedy. There's
Something About Mary is in my own top five, and that film's Detective Healy
is one of my favorite comic characters. All of us love Kingpin as well, and
we often watch these three films together.
But The Heartbreak Kid is pretty damned close to unwatchable.
When I tried to figure out exactly why, I was reminded of a conversation
I had with our colleague Tuna many years ago. I mentioned how much I loved
There's Something About Mary and how funny it was, and Tuna responded that
he liked the movie just as much as I did, but not because he thought it was
all that funny. He just really liked the characters and situations, and
enjoyed the story. When I recalled that conversation, it struck me just what
is wrong with The Heartbreak Kid. We would not want to spend time with the
characters under any circumstances. Just about everyone in this film is a dickhead.
It's a comedy about a man (Ben Stiller) who cheats on his wife while they are
honeymooning, and the only character we can identify with is the woman he cheats with, who seems nice enough
and doesn't know he's married, but is not funny or very
interesting in any way. She's basically just a plot device. The
wife turns out to be dumber than a goose
as well as a head case of the first order. The husband himself is an
impatient and intolerant jerk. At the end of the picture, in an epilogue,
planning to cheat on his second wife in identical circumstances. He's also
too easily irritated. How easily? One of the things that bothers him most
about his hastily-wed wife is that she wants to have non-stop crazy sex on
You know, I've been in this situation. I dated a woman like this for
a year. Sexiest woman I've ever known, but a real bimbo. In fact she really
had a lot in common with the ditzy wife in this movie - talked a lot like
her, even looked a lot like her. We really had no emotional connection and
nothing to talk about, so I'll admit that I did eventually grow weary of
this red-hot woman's desire for non-stop recreational sex day and night.
But it took a helluva lot longer than two days!
The husband's dad and his best friend (played respectively by Ben Stiller's
real-life dad and Rob Corddry) are boors who constantly give him harebrained
advice which is doubly cursed by being as humorless as it is toxic. The bad
guy is a witless redneck who ends up beating Stiller with a baseball bat.
That's comedy gold, Jerry, gold! As Pat Reeder noted in The Comedy Wire,
"This is the first movie remake that made audiences yearn for the charm and
warmth of Charles Grodin."
In There's Something About Mary, Ben Stiller was a lovelorn guy who
wondered whatever happened to his dream girl from high school. He was a nice
guy who earned our identification. His dream girl was a real sweetheart with
a great sense of humor. Stiller established a genuine regard for her
mentally-challenged brother. Even the scheming, lying, insensitive Detective
Healy was a guy you'd love to have a beer with, just to marvel at how he
managed to think up such great lies so fast on his feet. In a nutshell, that
sums up the
real difference between the two films: you would rather have a beer
with the antagonist in Mary than with the supposed empathetic characters in
Of course, you might forgive the obnoxious characters if the film were
loaded with laughs, but it isn't. The gross-outs are tired and recycled. The
verbal humor is AWOL. There are many group conversations in which people are
laughing at each other's jokes and really starting to like one another,
while we watch bewildered, wondering what they are laughing at and what they
see in one another. If I had met the nice girl's family and gotten to know
them as Stiller did, I would have felt like I was auditioning for the Ned
Beatty role in a Deliverance remake. The worst part of watching those
painful conversations is knowing that the Farrelly Brothers must have been
deluded into thinking they were presenting witty and charming dialogue.
That's how completely they have lost their gift.
As a great fan of their early work, I wish I didn't have to keep
reporting the brothers' ongoing inability to capture the combination of
lowbrow humor, sentimentality, and engaging characters that once made them
the heirs apparent to Mel Brooks.
Now that is heartbreak, kid.