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Oct 26,2007
Hollywood, Etc.: The wacky Farrelly brothers are back
by James Hebert

BEVERLY HILLS - There's something about marrying that has drawn the Farrelly brothers - champions of the guilty laugh and the gross-out gag - into wedlock with an unlikely creative mate: Neil Simon.

Someone tell Neil the news.

FARRELLY BROTHERS - The Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, are back with a twisted take on Neil Simon's 'The Heartbreak Kid.' CNS Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures. 
"I hope he approves," Bobby Farrelly says, laughing at the odds the PG-minded playwright might bless their raunchy remake of "The Heartbreak Kid," Simon's 1972 matrimonial satire. (He wrote the screenplay based on a story by Bruce Jay Friedman.) "I'm sure he won't."

Bobby, the Farrelly with the clean-cut, preppie bearing, turns to his shaggy-haired sibling, Peter, lounging in a nearby armchair.

"I assume (we) got the rights to it - right?" he asks.

"I'm not sure he knows about this," Peter replies with a sly smile.

Sometimes the groom is the last to learn what he's getting into, which is kind of the point of "The Heartbreak Kid," a comedy about a guy (Ben Stiller) whose new wife turns out to be a superfreak and whose true love is a gal he meets on his honeymoon.

If the movie's pedigree isn't typical Farrelly fare, its laughs still draw on the same broad inspirations that have driven the duo's movies from "Dumb and Dumber" to "There's Something About Mary" to "Fever Pitch."

The brothers poke fun at ideas of status and propriety. They unmask frauds and pretenders and see to it that the put-upon are put upon a pedestal. Most of all, they revel in the little misunderstandings that have a way of turning into huge, relationship-rending messes.

Take away the cow carnage and the bathroom disasters and the hair-gel terrors and all the other sight gags this directing team has become infamous for, and a Farrelly brothers movie can seem a little like life.

Which is funny, because Peter Farrelly's life sounds a little like a Farrelly brothers movie.

Ask him why the two seem so fascinated by what happens when communication gets crossed up between people - a big theme of their take on "The Heartbreak Kid" - and at first the usually verbose older brother is stumped.

"That's interesting - I never thought about that one," Peter says. "I don't know. I guess there's something very amusing to us about that."

Then he recalls a story from his teenhood in New England. At a party, Peter had hooked up with a girl (her name was Debbie, possibly) who was staying at a boardinghouse on Cape Cod run by a strict schoolmarm type who didn't like strange boys calling on the phone.

Debbie, who'd had a few drinks, told Peter that if he called he should identify himself as her brother from California. So when he phoned the next day and a female voice picked up, that's what he did - only to be told that Debbie was away for a few days.

"I said, 'Well, just tell her it's her brother from California,'" he recalls.

"And she goes: 'Stevie? Stevie, this is Debbie! I thought you were this guy I met last night.'"

"She forgot she had told me this," he says, laughing. "I was like: 'It's me! It's the guy you met last night.' And she goes (pause): 'Can I call you right back?'"

Listening to the tale, Bobby can't resist mocking big brother: "How long did you wait for the callback?"

The Farrellys aren't necessarily the first filmmakers you'd think to psychoanalyze (although Freud might have something to say about their potty fixation), but it's easy to read a trace of defensiveness into their sympathy for the misunderstood.

After the surprise success of their directing debut, 1994's "Dumb and Dumber" (which even Peter calls "just a dumb movie"), and then the runaway hit that was 1998's "There's Something About Mary," the Farrelly name became shorthand for seriously juvenile humor.

At the same time, their accomplishments helped launch a wave of even ruder, cruder movies, a dubious legacy that has stuck to the brothers like toilet paper to a shoe.

"There were some very, very bad movies made late in the last century and early this century," Peter asserts. "And our names were mentioned in almost all the opening paragraphs of the reviews.

"I remember reading my name three times in a review for 'Freddy Got Fingered.' I went to see it and I was just appalled. I was just embarrassed. Why do I have to be associated with that? We're not doing that."

By that time, the Farrellys had changed course anyway, making gentler PG-13 films while still delving into some rather delicate topics for comedy: mental illness ("Me, Myself & Irene"); obesity ("Shallow Hal"); Siamese twindom ("Stuck on You"); and of course Red Sox baseball ("Fever Pitch").

"The Heartbreak Kid" marks the brothers' return to the land of the R rating - "It feels good to be back in our country," Bobby says. And if the choice of project comes as a surprise to audiences (not to mention Mr. Simon), it seems to amuse the Farrellys, too.

When they first got a call five years ago about remaking the original, the two said no. They were fans of the film and didn't want to mess with a classic.

But when Peter watched it again about two years ago, he "saw a couple of holes in it. It was starting to get cracks."

In that film, directed by Elaine May from Simon's screenplay, Charles Grodin plays a discontented newlywed who dumps his frumpy, virginal wife on their honeymoon in favor of an alluring ice queen (Cybill Shepherd).

Not only did parts of the film feel dated to the Farrellys, but Peter also noticed it didn't offer anyone to root for.

"He's a cad," Peter says. "He's cheating on his wife on his honeymoon. And Kelly (Shepherd's character) is a sociopath. He tells her right off the bat, 'I'm on my honeymoon,' and she says, 'Right on.'

"Do you really want to see these people together? You want to see what happens, but you don't really care. You're just amused by them."

Around the same time, the Farrellys received a new script by Scot Armstrong and Leslie Dixon that completely recast the couple's relationship.

In this one, the guy "marries a knockout upfront," Peter says, "and then meets a girl who's more his speed. Not that she's bad looking, but she's more grounded. And we loved that notion. We saw what we could do with it."

What they did was make the new movie's leading man, Eddie (Stiller), a dithering but well-meaning bachelor who is browbeaten by his dad (Stiller's real-life father, Jerry) and best friend (Rob Corddry) into marrying the blond hottie Lila (the Swedish-born actress Malin Akerman).

Only this Lila is no virgin - in fact, her voracious appetites (and sadistic bedroom techniques) might just kill Eddie, if her habit of crooning "Muskrat Love" and other crimes against music doesn't do it first.

Those are just a few of the things Eddie learns too late about Lila, and they help humanize his attraction (and initial fibbing) to Miranda, a lacrosse coach who's vacationing with her wacky Mississippi kinfolk at the same Mexican resort.

The misapprehension thing comes in when Eddie tries to tell Miranda the truth; through a series of twists, the message she gets is way different from what Eddie thinks she believes.

"That part of the movie, the misunderstanding, who thinks what, we spent a lot of time worrying about that, remember?" Bobby says, jogging Peter's memory. "I remember thinking, if this doesn't work - if for some reason the audience is either confused or, like, that's (poppycock) - the movie could potentially collapse under its own weight."

But just in case the reference to weight alienates Farrelly fans who aren't expecting much heavy lifting, rest assured: The brothers still work a generous quota of sight gags into all the plotting. These involve such items as copious body hair, a large jellyfish and an even larger rat. (Not to mention lots of nudity.)

Even these moments, though, flow from character, Peter argues. He ticks off the sympathetic qualities of key figures from earlier Farrelly movies: Jim Carrey's loneliness in "Dumb and Dumber"; Woody Harrelson's tough breaks in the bowling saga "Kingpin"; Stiller's shielding of a disabled kid from a bully in "Mary"; Jack Black being saddled with bad advice from his dying father in "Shallow Hal."

"All these things are important for us to be able to get away with our gags," he says. "You've gotta love our guys. And if you don't, I don't think the gags work."

None of which completely explains what Peter was doing in his own barn a while back - long after the "Heartbreak" shoot had wrapped - filming a neighbor boy snorting Carnation Instant Breakfast powder off a mirror.

It seems a crew member had suggested the scene as a bonus to run during the movie's end credits - a flashback that would shed light on an earlier (and, yes, drug-related) reference in the movie. Peter decided it was worth a go.

Of course, the young actor and Farrelly's own 8-year-old son, who is also in the scene, didn't quite understand what the boy was supposed to be doing, and the director wasn't about to try and explain. So - channeling his inner Eddie, perhaps - Peter decided a little nimble "truthiness" was in order.

"I said: 'He's crazy. He's a crazy kid. And he likes to snort Carnation Instant Breakfast into his nose.'"

Talk about your bad fatherly advice. Apparently, though, Farrelly Jr. wasn't quite buying it.

"My son said: 'Gosh, is that funny to people, Dad?'"

Kid, you would be amazed.

1077 times read

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