90s Movie Challenge Week 3: There’s Something About Mary (1998)

Greetings 90s Fans! It’s time for another entry in our #90sMC. Matt Adcock, author of Complete Darkness, joins the WGN Family this week (after a few guest spots in our Great Monsters Who Aren’t… feature back in October last year) to take us back to 1998 with the supremely silly and entertaining There’s Something About Mary.

Hands up if you remember 1998? Times were certainly simpler then, social media was just in its infancy and comedy films were far less beholden to the moderation of those who want to ensure that offence isn’t given…

Hhhhmmm, when I think back to 1998 the film that jumps out most to me is There’s Something About Mary. A comedy directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly – the Farrelly brothers. For context, the Farrelly brothers made names for themselves by making ‘gross-out comedies’ such as Dumb and Dumber – where low IQ is the funny thing, Stuck on You – Siamese Twins bring the mirth, Me, Myself  & Irene – laughing at and not with those suffering from mental health personality disorders. I mean who would have thought that Peter Farrelly would end up winning an Academy Award for directing the serious minded Green Book in 2018!?

I recently re-watched There’s Something About Mary with my adult sons who had never experienced it’s like and while it took a while for them to acclimatise to the ‘product of its time’ screwballing script, by the end they were won over.

For me There’s Something About Mary was a perfect storm of the gorgeous Cameron Diaz – coming in hot off the back of My Best Friend’s Wedding which was one of the top 10 grossing films of ‘97 – as the titular ‘Mary’. Mary, you see, is the girl who men can’t help falling for and the story tells the tale of how a troop of hopeful suitors including Ted (Ben Stiller), Pat (Matt Dillon), Dom (Chris Elliott) and Tucker (Lee Evans) are all hopelessly in love with her.

The opening scene is a stone-cold classic warning to those who have anatomical gonads. We meet a 16-year-old Ted, about to go on his prom date with his dream girl Mary but managing to self-inflict a most heinous injury upon his, erm, scrotum – getting it stuck in his trouser zipper. Thus, he misses the prom due to being hospitalized, the cry of ‘we’ve got a bleeder’ by the paramedic is the ‘perfect laugh at something you really shouldn’t’ sweet spot. Even writing about this scene makes me cross my legs as it really strikes a primal fear into the nether regions of watchers and the whole scene is some of Stiller’s best comedic work ever committed to film.

Anyway, jump forward thirteen years to 1998 and a now 29-year-old Ted is still in love with Mary ‘the one who got away’. His best friend Dom persuades him to hire a P.I. to track Mary down and so enter Pat Healy – one of cinema’s most despicable ‘boo-hiss’ characters – brilliantly realised by Matt Dillon. Once Pat finds Mary he immediately falls for her himself and so tells Ted that she is hideously overweight and struggling with four kids by three different men – in the hope of putting Ted off. The truth, however, being that Mary is stunner who works with disadvantaged people and couldn’t be sweeter if she tried.

From then on, it is a hilarious full-scale battle of wills between Ted and Pat with nothing off-limits – from lying, cheating, and stalking the poor Mary who is innocence itself. The plot encompasses a wild and wide range of plot devices that include a serial killing hitchhiker, Mary’s brother who has special needs, her crazy (and Trump-tastically tanned) neighbour Magda and even a singing narrator who bursts into song while giving the viewer regular updates.

The comic stylings run deep throughout the cast. There are so many scenes that work as set pieces – mostly which involve injury detail such as Ted getting a fly-fishing hook through the cheek just as about to try a smooch with Mary. And the running joke of ‘don’t touch his head’ with Mary’s brother is one that delivers laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film. Even the old school ‘dog attack to groin’ is an eye-watering delight… So this isn’t a comedy for the faint of heart.

There is real emotional gravitas too though and anyone who has ever fallen for someone who didn’t return the affection will find much to relate to. The pathos is as deep as the comedy is off the scale in terms of being the polar opposite of what is deemed ‘Politically Correct’. And oh boy there is a litany of slapstick violence that includes perhaps one of the most horrifically funny dog/window combinations every dreamt up – leading to an alternative promo poster of the dog in a full-body cast, complete with strapline ‘No animals were harmed in the making of this movie. Everybody else was on their own.’

What speaks to me is the rare sense of undiluted joy that streams from the screen in this movie. The cast all seem to be having a brilliant time riffing off each other and the chemistry is so strong you can feel it. That it ends with a whole cast singing along to The Foundations ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ is for my money the greatest end credit bonus to date (Marvel, if Endgame had had an Avengers ensemble sing-along that might have challenged this…). You can enjoy the song on its own on YouTube and it’ll give you a feel for the madcap treat the film itself delivers.

Of course what I must mention is the luminous Cameron – having been a fan of hers since she burst onto the movie scene at 21 in The Mask (1994), her portfolio of work has been pleasingly eclectic and generally excellent. In There’s Something About Mary Miss Diaz shone with a goofy gorgeousness that cemented her new kind of screen siren status. Helped a little by her iconic ‘hair gel’ moment for the promo poster, there really is something about Mary here that is hard to capture sufficiently in words.

In case it hasn’t been clear – I love this film and am delighted it was picked as one of the top 50 films of the ‘90s. It may be late nineties but this is an unconventional comedy masterpiece and my favourite guilty pleasure. I believe it is a film that everyone should witness at least once.

There’s Something About Mary might not be in any way highbrow but it manages to be outrageously entertaining. It certainly struck a chord with moviegoers in ’98 as it ‘grossed-out’ almost $400 million against a budget of $20 million, finished in the top 4 films of the year for box office.

If you’re in need of a comedic release from the oppressive reality of lockdown life – seek out Mary and find out for yourself what it is about her that makes her such great company!!

Thanks Matt! Come back again (and again and again) next week when the hibernating Louis Thelier comes out of his burrow and takes us back to 1993 over… and over… and over… to look for his shadow.

That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers. It’s Groundhog Day!

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