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Interview with the Farrelly Brothers

One could chronicle the film career of Peter and Bobby Farrelly by listing their most disgusting moments, the scenes that would compel the most hardened epicures of gross-out comedy to say, "I can't believe they did that."

That list would include Jeff Daniels prolonged encounter with a broken toilet in Dumb and Dumber (1994). Woody Harrelson making a special arrangement with his landlady to cover the rent in Kingpin (1996). The "franks and beans" episode in There's Something about Mary (1998). The tissues and hand cream in Me, Myself & Irene (2000). Even Drew Barrymore getting conked on the head by a foul ball in Fever Pitch (2005) is shocking. And funny.

Their new film Hall Pass, in which Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis star as a couple of horny hubbies given a week-long reprieve from fidelity by their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate), continues in that tradition. There's one scene in which a woman picked up in a bar is feeling a little under the weather and...Well, let's just say fans of the Brothers won't be disappointed. For everyone else, you've been warned.

But Hall Pass also balances its outrageousness with a surprising sentimentality and conservatism. If you cut out the poop gags, vagina jokes, exposed penises, masturbation references, and arcane terminology ("fake chow," for example), what's left (if anything) would be suitable viewing for a Sarah Palin rally.

So is their offensiveness really a smokescreen for family values? Have they lost their subversive edge, their excremental vision, and become comfortable with the bourgeois status quo? Maybe they will return to the comic anarchy of their earliest films when they begin production on their dream project, the ten-years-in-the-making The Three Stooges. It promises to be a celebration of the moronic trio whose TV syndicated shorts have regaled generations of pre-adolescents, inspiring some, like the Farrellys, to aspire to their consummate puerility.

These are a few of the questions I discussed with the pair when I had a chance to interview them during their promotional tour for Hall Pass.

Q: In your films you combine gross-out comedy with...What, you don't like the term "gross-out comedy?"

PF: No, we don't.

Q: What term would you use?

PF: Masterpieces would be nice. But it diminishes what we do to just call it gross-out comedy. Something About Mary, the hair gel, to call it just gross-out comedy? We took a long time, an hour and fifteen minutes, to set up where this great guy meets this girl in high school, falls madly in love with her, things don't work out. Seventeen years later he finally hooks up with her, it looks like it's going to happen, and you open the door and he's got the thing in his hair. So it's more than just the gross-out part. It's the situation. That's why it's wrong to just call it gross-out.

Q: So let's say instead that you have this excretory humor...

BF: That's better. Yeah, we're not afraid to go for it. We're not afraid of bodily functions.

Q: You seemed to have covered them all.

BF: There's always new ones.

PF: Had you heard of "fake chow" before? A friend of ours, whom I will dub a cunning linguist, came up with that. When he explained it to use we were like, well...

Q: So you combine this excretory comedy with romanticism. How do you balance the tone?

BF: It's important that there's a sweet story. The gags sometimes camouflage that. But at its heart the movie is about a couple of guys who get the week off but when they come back at the end, they're better for it.

PF: It's a balancing act because we don't want the whole thing to be absurd. We also don't want it to be syrupy sweet. We want it to be both. A lot of it is just the timing. We don't really know how that's going to work until we're in the editing room and start cutting.

Q: Ultimately your films are about family values, in a Hollywood sort of way.

BF: We don't purposely do that. In some ways it's not Hollywood. In Dumb and Dumber they don't get the girl. In Kingpin he doesn't win the tournament. We do want you to walk out feeling good. But on the other hand, at the start of this movie, we were both open to the idea of both of them getting divorced. It occurred to us, let's see where it ends up. I wanted to have a 70s style ending, where anything could happen. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - they die at the end. The Way We Were - they're not together in the end. We went in knowing that one or both of these couple could divorce. Ultimately, after they made their mistakes, paid their dues, got beaten up a bit, we felt they deserved to get back together.

Q: It seems like it's the characters who succumb to temptation who get beaten up.

PF: It does, doesn't it?

Q: That's a kind of traditional moral value. Do you guys consider yourselves conservative?

PF: I would say I'm way liberal. I can't speak for him. We don't really talk politics. I'm open to things. Live and let live. I'm for gay marriage.

BF: I'm on the liberal side too when it comes to comedy. We'll try anything if we think it's funny. As far as politics are concerned, I would classify myself as apolitical.

Q: But your films can be political. You often involve disabled people, for example.

PF: Yeah at the beginning of the movie in the card game there's a guy in a wheelchair - that's Danny Murphy. And then the guy who punches out Jason Sudeikis, his name's Igor, he's the tallest man in North America, and he has a lot of disabilities because of that. There was some story on CNN about who he is and he said his dream was to be in a movie, so we called him up and got him in.

     We do it because we have friends who are mentally or intellectually disabled. People we grew up with. When we started writing scripts we started including them a little bit. People at the studio said, "ah, you don't want them in a comedy." Well, why not? It was part of our upbringing.

Q: Another thing I liked in the film is that a white guy ends up having an African-American wife, and there's no comment on it.

PF: I love to do that. We love that no comment business. We don't like to make a big deal of it. Like in There's Something About Mary. You know, her father being black. When we were casting that, we didn't write he was black, we didn't write either way. So we thought, you wouldn't think a black guy who sounds like an inner city black guy would be Mary's dad. So fuck it, let's do it. You like keeping the audience off balance. Surprising them. That was a great example of it. No comment on it, but it helped the scene a lot.

Q: There's also a homoerotic quality. Is every comedy that comes out these days required to have a naked penis?

BF: Lately it's catching on. But I don't think there's ever been one like the one in this film.

Q: It filled the frame, let's say. And there's also a conversation about "would you have a seven minute blow job or seven minute kiss?" Which is kind of a trick question.

BF: It is a tough one. But it's funny. When Dumb and Dumber came out one guy at the studio called it homophobic. We were like, are you kidding me? It's homoerotic. These guys are taking saunas together, sleeping in the same bed.

PF: They're in love with each other.

Q: Kind of like the Three Stooges. That movie seems like a return to the wellspring of comedy that you draw from.

PF: That physical slapstick humor is still funny. They made their movies in 1935 and we can still watch it and howl with laughter. Whereas comedy from that time that relies on witty repartee and stuff, it changes. Like Preston Sturges. It's hard for people to appreciate people like Preston Sturges the way they appreciate the Stooges or W.C. Fields. It's harder for us to appreciate the nonphysical comedy.

Q: So the film transfers the Stooges to the present day?

PF: Yeah. We've written three new episodes. And it's present day, but they look the same, sound the same, dress the same, same sound effects. It's a kids' movie

Q: Even with Cher playing a hot nun?

BF: She's not committed yet. We were lucky to get Cher in the movie Stuck On You. We just like her. She's a cool chick and we'd like to work with her again.

PF: She's the only woman we've ever worked with who banged both of us.

BF: At the same time.

PF: So we'd like to get back together again.








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