Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Dumb and Dumber To. I am basing my opinion purely on the trailers and TV spots. Sue me.
I recently revisited the Farrelly brothers’ 1994 comedy Dumb and Dumber. I loved it more than ever. Actually, it’s brilliantly written with lots of subtle, smart jokes along with the ridiculous slapstick. And Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are undisputedly hilarious. Fan-freaking-tastic. Eric Goldman of IGN called it “inspired stupidity,” saying it has “that special feeling you get when some very smart people get together to make a movie about very dumb people.” Watchmojo.com named it the fifth best comedy of all time. Now, 20 years later, the Farrelly bros are writing and directing a sequel, bringing Harry and Lloyd back to the silver screen. Judging by the advertising, they should have left well enough alone.
I felt uneasy about the new movie after seeing the first trailer, and I realized why after re-watching the original. First, I’ll give a brief overview about what I believe is the basis of good comedy. (Hang with me. (Or not, your choice.))
“Funny” is one of the most subjective things in the world, almost more so than politics. Seriously– lock a fan of Adam Sandler and a fan of Charlie Chaplin in a room together and see what happens. But when it comes down to it, comedy is all about discomfort: something undesirable happening to someone. Most stand-up revolves around painful or painfully awkward anecdotes; someone tripping and eating the floor always draws a laugh; Wile E. Coyote gets crushed by a boulder, then an anvil, then a safe. Discomfort, pain, misery. As horrible as it sounds, comedy is usually drawn from someone else’s hardship. We love it whenever George Costanza’s life spirals downward. It’s hilarious whenever someone’s best laid plans fall apart– because it’s not happening to you.
Now, back to the movie that has the word ‘dumb’ in its title not once, but twice. What’s so great about Dumb and Dumber? Carrey and Daniels spraying ketchup in their mouths is so funny, I think, because it’s believable. Not realistic. Believable. The movie seems to take place in ‘the real world.’ (As opposed to Airplane or The Naked Gun with their anything-goes kind of humor.) Harry and Lloyd are ridiculously dumb, and no one else is. Mary Swanson, the highway patrolman, the FBI agents, the innocent bystanders– they behave like real people. They’re just trying to live their lives. In fact, Mary is trying to rescue a loved one from a hostage situation; in another movie, that would be heartbreaking and emotional. That’s why it’s so funny when Lloyd blunders in and screws everything up. Throughout the movie, Harry and Lloyd lay waste to the everyday lives of people across the country, and those pour souls react believably. Therein lies the genius and the humor.
Okay, so why does the sequel underwhelm me? Well, based my initial impressions, the Farrelly brothers ditched the real-world setting. Here, Harry and Lloyd aren’t the only idiots in town. Most of the supporting characters behave like they’re in a comedy movie. They say one-liners, make silly faces, do their darnedest to be funny– and that’s exactly why it’s not funny. Their pain is what made the original so great. If they’re in on the joke, it’s not nearly as fun to see Harry and Lloyd make them miserable.
Of course, I could be wrong. The sequel could be just as side-splitting as its predecessor. But the advertisements haven’t sold me. I’m not inspired to spend my money and time watching it, which means it failed on that front. But I’d love to be wrong! I’d love to watch two more hours of Harry and Lloyd making people miserable. Real, believable people. For now, I’ll stick with the tried and true 1994 version.