REVIEW: Dumb and Dumber To

13 11 2014

If ever there were a walking contradiction of a film, it would be “Dumb and Dumber To.”  I remain confounded as to how a film can be so clever yet so inane at the same time.  Some jokes in the film are actually quite ingenious, but usually just when it registers, Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) make some crack that would not even entertain the least discerning thirteen-year-old.

So what to make of the Farrelly Brothers’ latest comedy, an uneven blend of upper-middle- and low-brow humor?  It caters to two wildly opposite sensibilities, providing no real meeting point for them.  I have a feeling its median will be both happy or unhappy, depending on how tolerant a particular viewer is when they approach “Dumb and Dumber To.”

I would have been a little happier had the film not been so long; clocking in at a tumid 110 minutes, Harry and Lloyd, who are essentially glorified sketch comedy characters, really overstay their welcome.  It’s certainly not as if the plot sweeps us up because it amounts to little more than a skeleton onto which the jokes can graft themselves.  The wild, “Tommy Boy”-esque goose chase that ensues from Harry’s need for a kidney replacement brings a few good natural jokes, though the real laughs arise from the off-handed remarks and abundant malapropisms.

There are also far more laughs coming from Jeff Daniels, who rarely gets the chance to be this funny.  Carrey plays shades of his wacky, off-kilter Lloyd all the time; Daniels, on the other hand, only breaks out Harry once in a blue moon.  He usually waxes witty in everything from “Looper” to “The Squid and the Whale,” yet it is really a fun treat to watch him cut loose – even if the material feels beneath him at times.

And as a final post-script, whoever put in two seconds of Riskay’s “Smell Yo Dick” as Lloyd’s ringtone should pat themselves on the back.  I doubt they intended it to generate a big rise, but I caught the reference and got a wickedly perverse amount of pleasure from it.  Obscure semi-viral videos from 2009 should still have a place in our culture five years later, and better it be in “Dumb and Dumber To” than on another obnoxious nostalgia-exploiting clickbait BuzzFeed list.  B-2stars

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 21, 2013)

21 06 2013

As I’ve said, I don’t like Sofia Coppola movies.  And I think I liked “The Virgin Suicides” not because of her but in spite of her.  Perhaps because the films feels nothing like the rest of her work it’s my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

I’m certainly glad I held out on watching the film until I completed Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, the source text for the film.  “The Virgin Suicides” is a richly observed tale of five sisters who each take their own lives over the course of a single year.  But it’s not from their point of view; it’s told from the perspective of their neighbors, observing their lives from a cool distance.  Specifically, it’s from the point of view of some young boys in the neighborhood who do not just watch – they peer, gaze, and spy.

Suicide becomes an excellent metaphor for the breakdown of community in modern America, a disease that grows when we place each other under a microscope.  It’s what happens when we treat the people in our lives as objects of fascination, not people.  Coppola bottles up this frustration with the suburban social dynamic and regurgitates it on screen with Eugenides’ vision totally intact.

She ultimately cannot compete with all the layers and detail of a novel, but film has never been a medium easily able to indulge in tangents and side stories.  Coppola aims to get at the feeling and mood of “The Virgin Suicides,” and she succeeds at communicating that eerie melancholy.  While we get to know the tragedy of the Lisbon sisters, we never really know anybody.  To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, we are both within and without of the story.

It turns out Sofia Coppola is actually a great narrative filmmaker, provided that narrative originally belonged to someone else.  Though “The Bling Ring” is adapted from a magazine article, so we will see if the streak continues.  But even if it doesn’t, “The Virgin Suicides” captures the improbable lightning of a novel in a succinct and memorable bottle of a film.