Geeky high-school loser Ted is in love with the gorgeous and vivacious Mary. Ordinarily Ted would have the chance to even talk to Mary, but she approaches him after Ted defends a mentally-handicapped student from bullies. Turns out that the student is her brother and Mary is so impressed by Ted’s kindness that not only does she talk to him, but she invites him to the prom.
On prom night, Ted meets Mary’s overprotective stepfather, who has an impaired sense of humor, and Mary’s unstable brother who is three times Ted’s size, and survives relatively unscathed. Until he goes to the bathroom, that is. That’s where the mortifying and painful “zipper incident” occurs, which brings their prom night date to an abrupt end and sends them on a trip to the ER.
Fast forward thirteen years. Ted doesn’t have braces and frizzy hair anymore, but he still has the hots for Mary. Upon a friend’s recommendation, he hires the slightly sleazy private detective Pat Healy to locate Mary and find out how she’s doing.
Mary is doing wonderfully. Now living in Miami, she is gorgeous, successful and happy, yet somehow still single. Pat uses the information he collects while trailing her to present himself as Mary’s ideal man. Pat tells Ted outrageous and outlandish stories about how terrible Mary has turned out and then hastily packs his things and relocates to Miami to try to win her heart using his insider information. Once Ted discovers Pat’s plan, he goes to Miami himself to stop Pat and finds himself smitten with Mary again. There’s just something about that Mary.
First things first: This is a Farelly brothers’ movie. Some viewers will instantly opt out upon learning this, while others will flock to the film because of it. The humor in Farelly brothers’ films is gross, over-the-top, in poor taste and sometimes offensive. It’s also hilarious.
“There’s Something About Mary” opened new doors – both funny and shocking – with its now-legendary “zipper incident” and “hair gel” scenes. These and similar funny-yet-gross-out scenes play on the normal human fear of embarrassment. We’ve all worried about what could go wrong on a first date or when moving in for the first kiss. Watching horribly embarrassing things happen to Ted and Pat allows the viewer to think “At least THAT never happened to me,” which makes laughing at their exploits that much easier.
In addition to being a gross-out comedy, “There’s Something About Mary” is also a sweet love story. Ted has carried the torch for Mary for so long and wants to see her as an adult, even after Pat has told him outlandish lies about Mary being overweight, handicapped and poor, with a passel of out-of-wedlock children. Mary, of course, is sweetness and light. She looks after her neighbors, her brother’s special schoolmates, friends, co-workers, animals and even strangers. She’s cheerful, charming and generous to everyone. The viewer hopes that Mary and Ted will overcome their obstacles and live happily ever after.
Mary’s overwhelming perkiness would be annoying if her character were realistic in other ways. But she’s not realistic at all. In addition to over-the-top gross-out humor, the Farrellys have given us an over-the-top fantasy woman. Mary has money and a successful career, but doesn’t spend much time at work. She’s gorgeous – and quite often, braless – but is still single, despite everyone being in love with her. She plays golf, loves football and likes hot dogs, beer and hanging out. There’s something about Mary, alright: She doesn’t exist in real life.
Cameron Diaz sparkles in the role of Mary. She had just done the Jim Carrey movie “The Mask” and knew that this movie, with its infamous “hair gel” scene, could be either a mega-hit or career suicide. Diaz gambled and we all won. Ben Stiller is great, as always, as the earnest, sweet, well-meaning former geek-turned-nice guy. This movie makes good use of Stiller’s skill at physical comedy, a talent he’s displayed in many roles since this one. Matt Dillon hides his charming good looks and successfully inhabits the role of the sleazy, creepy, goofy private detective Pat.
Peter and Bobby Farrelly have successfully forged a career making movies full of politically incorrect, scatological, shocking and offensive humor. They’ve directed eleven movies together so far, including “Shallow Hal”, “Dumb and Dumber”, “Kingpin”, and, of course, “There’s Something About Mary”.
THE MIAMI CONNECTION
Miami is showcased in this film just as much as the character of Mary. Miami is shown as beautiful, sunny, warm, inviting and fun – just like Mary. In contrast, the Rhode Island scenes depict a dreary, gray world that’s no fun, like Ted’s life without Mary.
South Florida locations used in the film include the Paramount Bay Condos (where Mary lived), the Big Pink Restaurant (Pat had a meeting there), the Miami-Dade Cultural Center (where Mary takes Pat to an architecture exhibit), the Cardozo Hotel (Ted’s hotel) and the Brickell Key Causeway (Mary’s office is in Brickell Park overlooking the causeway).
The filmmakers seem to enjoy poking fun at the stereotype of the over-tanned sun worshipper with the character of Magda. As Mary’s older and much wrinklier roommate, Magda gets some very funny lines and provides one of the movie’s most memorable sight gags.
CAST AND CREW
Cameron Diaz – Mary Jensen
Matt Dillon – Pat Healy
Ben Stiller – Ted Stroehmann
W. Earl Brown – Warren Jensen
Lin Shaye – Magda
Chris Elliot – Dom Woganowski
Jeffrey Tambor – Sully
Markie Post – Sheila Jensen
Keith David – Charlie Jensen