‘Dumb and Dumber To': A Movie Made For 1994
The target audience for ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ is college-age kids from 1994. Now, by that, I don’t mean “people living in 2014 who went to college in the mid-‘90s.” I mean that it’s for someone who is in college right now and it’s also 1994. I’ve never seen a movie like ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ that is so unabashedly not from this time. It’s one of the best period pieces I’ve ever seen, even though the plot of the film is set in the present. The Farrelly brothers have successfully made a movie from 1994 in 2014.
Having said all that: I can’t believe how often and how hard I laughed during ‘Dumb and Dumber To.’
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker directed ‘Airplane!,’ ‘Top Secret!,’ and ‘Ruthless People’ (and wrote the first ‘Naked Gun’ movie, David Zucker directed alone). After, they would work on more and more projects separately, with different degrees of success: Jerry Zucker would direct ‘Ghost,’ Jim Abrahams would direct ‘Hot Shots!’
Maybe it’s a coincidence that just as the ZAZ brand of comedy was fizzling out, ‘Dumb and Dumber’ was released into theaters. Everything changed. The “gross out” comedy was now in vogue, even though Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s movies weren’t really that gross. But just as ZAZ were the kings of the ‘80s,’ the Farrelly brothers ruled the ‘90s. They followed up 1994’s ‘Dumb and Dumber’ – a blockbuster that earned almost $250 million worldwide -- with 1996’s ‘Kingpin,’ a movie starring Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid that bombed commercially, but is now considered a comedy classic. Their commercial drought wouldn’t last long, as ‘There’s Something About Mary’ became a true phenomenon, grossing just under $370 million worldwide and becoming the fourth biggest movie of 1998. (Even my grandparents saw ‘There’s Something About Mary.’)
I think it’s fair to call ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ ‘Kingpin,’ and ‘There’s Something About Mary’ the Farrelly brothers’ “big three.” After, they re-teamed with Jim Carrey for ‘Me, Myself & Irene,’ a mainly fine movie that did OK at the box office, but the Farrelly magic seemed to be disappearing. (Though, there is a groundswell of support for ‘Stuck on You,’ a movie starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins that not many people saw.) In the last 10 years, the most successful Farrelly brothers movie has been ‘Hall Pass,’ a movie most people have forgotten even exists.
It’s hard to maintain continued success as comedy directors.
In 1996, Jim Carrey -- the man who the Farrellys helped turn into a superstar – teamed with a little known producer named Judd Apatow to star in a dark comedy called ‘The Cable Guy.’ It’s almost a weird mash-up today: Carrey at his peak and Apatow at his onset. It’s basically two comedic styles clashing into what would become at least one of the most interesting comedies of the last 20 years. And, again, maybe it’s a coincidence that right as the Farrellys were losing steam, the Apatow-produced ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ opened. As the Farrrellys ruled the ‘90s, Apatow would dominate the first decade of the new millennium. Apatow’s first two movies as director – ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin and ‘Knocked Up’ -- would gross a combined $400 million. His next two films -- ‘Funny People’ and ‘This is 40’ -- would underperform. And, again, just maybe it’s a coincidence, but Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s first live-action film, ’21 Jump Street,’ would be released the same year as ‘This is 40,’ ushering another comedy directing team that has now given us '22 Jump Street' and ‘The Lego Movie’ as massive hits.
Again, it’s hard to maintain success as comedy directors.
This is why what the Farrellys did with ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ is so remarkable. Let’s take ‘Hall Pass’ as an example; you can tell the Farrellys wanted to make a “modern” movie so badly -- to somehow fit in in a world they once ruled. ‘Hall Pass’ – which isn’t a very good movie – was dripping with “try.” The Farrellys were trying to evolve into a comedy landscape that wasn’t theirs anymore and it didn’t work.
With ‘Dumb and Dumber To,’ it’s as if the Farrellys have absolutely no idea that 20 years have passed since the release of the first ‘Dumb and Dumber’ movie and they don’t care. They didn’t even attempt to make a movie that feels like it belongs in the 21st century. They certainly aren’t pandering to millennials, trying to win them over with these goofy 50-year-olds doing stupid things. It’s like they are purposefully eschewing them – which, may, in turn win them over through some sort of unintended reverse psychology. Instead, they went out and made their movie. I’d bet the sentence, “Screw it, let’s just do what we want,” was said more than once while making ‘Dumb and Dumber To.’
And, strangely, everyone seems happy about this. A second ‘Dumb and Dumber’ movie has been gestating for so long, I was afraid that Jim Carrey was just going to phone it in for this sequel that he’s been actively avoiding for 20 years. Instead, Carrey gives an “all in" performance as if he’s back in 1994. Everyone looks older, but everything about this movie is from a different era. The Farrelly brothers have truly made the greatest ‘90s period piece ever put to film. I just wish there was some way we could ship ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ back in time to, say, 1996 – because there’s an audience waiting for it there that will just love it. But, hey, better late then never.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.