Ranking the Farrelly Brothers’ Comedies

One of the most influential last names in movie comedy that gets the least recognition is “Farrelly.” Maybe its because Bobby and Peter’s films have gotten progressively less popular with fans and critics in the 15-plus years they’ve been making them. Maybe it’s because their motto is probably something along the lines of “goofiness and toilet humor above all.” But no matter how “sophisticated” you feel your tastes in “humor” are, the Farrellys know how to get a laugh, period, and their work has inspired dozens of movies you’ve laughed at over the last decade or so.

“Hall Pass,” which comes out Friday, marks the brothers’ tenth film, which in blogging terms means we can create a Farrelly brothers “Top 10″ list. Okay, so I’m jumping the gun a bit, but I’ll be seeing “Hall Pass” tomorrow, so … quiet.

Before diving into my list, a bit of background for those of you still reading and still wondering “Farrelly who?” Rhode Island-born, this filmmaking duo got its start on “Seinfeld” writing a whopping two episodes of the show. It was enough, however, to propel them into landing support for their first major film, “Dumb & Dumber.” In 1994, maybe one of the best years for movies ever, the film finished sixth at the box office. It arguably rode Jim Carrey’s popularity from previously released 1994 films “Ace Ventura” and “The Mask,” but it certainly broke new ground in defining “appropriate” and “funny.”

Although “groundbreaking” hasn’t defined the Farrelly bros.’ comedy in several years now, their movies are always good for a barrel of laughs. And you know what? We occasionally need a reminder that laughing at dumb shit is okay.

10. Hall Pass (2011)

Where will “Hall Pass” ultimately rank on this list? If one thing’s certain, the premise of the film shows that the Farrellys acquiesced and have made a film that meets today’s adult comedy standards, aka middle-aged married couples talking openly about sex and blurring the lines of monogamy. As they often do, the filmmakers have recruited a whole set of actors who have never worked with them (exception being the small role Richard Jenkins plays). Hard to believe they’ve never teamed with Owen Wilson as that’s a perfect fit.

9. Osmosis Jones (2001)

If there’s a black sheep in the Farrelly canon its this half-animated half-live-action movie starring Bill Murray and the animated cells living in his body, namely Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock). It was not awful for what it was by any means (Bill Murray helps), but it doesn’t fit, unless by fit you mean the Farrelly brothers took their love of body-function humor to the nth degree. The film grossed just $13.5 million, their worst ever.

8. The Heartbreak Kid (2007)

Usually no Farrelly Bros.’ comedy goes completely unseen and unheard of. Ben Stiller starred in this sort-of remake about a commitment-fearing man who takes the plunge and marries a great girl he met on a whim, who turns out on the honeymoon to be annoying, psychotic and intolerable. Stiller is a money machine, something he wasn’t when he first collaborated with the Farrellys, yet it continued the trend of very small business for their films. Malin Ackerman and Michelle Monaghan are much bigger talents now, but the”Kid” was ripped by critics more than any other Farrelly and could by why they didn’t make a movie for three years until “Hall Pass.” Comedies have done worse than 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, but that’s the all-time low for the Farrelly Bros.

7. Stuck On You (2003)

You can say that conjoined twins are stupid, but you can’t say they’re not original. The Farrellys have long had a reputation of exploiting physical distinctions/deformities (such as being fat or handicapped) for laughs, which is a practice that has upset many people. I would have to say it’s more a collective “laugh together” than a “laugh at the expense of,” but that’s my opinion. They have also said in several interviews that they intentionally put in characters like that because most movies simply ignore them and that’s not realistic. Anyway, “Stuck On You” starred the unlikely duo of Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as conjoined brothers who make an excellent fry-cook team and are cool with doing everything together until they start to develop their own interests. Their love lives are also pretty interesting … unique humor here that’s good for some chuckles, just maybe not the biggest laughs of their films.

6. Shallow Hal (2001)

Maybe the most polarizing of all Farrelly Bros. work, “Shallow Hal” stars Jack Black as a despicable babe-ogling main character who only goes after hotties. He’s then hypnotized by a hypnotist so that he can only see the inner-beauty of women, so when he meets Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), he doesn’t see her for the 300-pounder that she is. Awkward. The message here is in the right place, but the handling of the jokes is touchy because Rosemary isn’t really the funny part, her weight is. Funny, but more uncomfortable than their other films. The film did, however, serve as Jack Black’s first starring role and helped propel him to serious fame.

5. Me, Myself & Irene (2000)

The Farrelly Brothers are often considered the fathers of R-rated comedy. “Me, Myself & Irene” was their second behind the No.1 film on this list, but also stands as the filmmakers’ deepest foray into black comedy territory as Jim Carrey plays Charlie, a schizophrenic whose alter ego, “Hank,” causes a ruckus, which is not helpful because Charlie is a Rhode Island state trooper. When he’s asked to transport Irene (Renee Zelwegger), a fugitive, both Charlie and Hank fall for her. Although Jim Carrey helped make the Farrelly Bros. name, by 2000, most had grown tired of his act despite the many boundaries the Farrellys pushed in this movie. Years later, the film holds up a bit better.

4. Fever Pitch (2005)

Although most people are ashamed to admit it, “Fever Pitch” is a likable movie and as the brothers’ only true romantic comedy, they do a pretty good job thanks to chemistry between Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. The whole project was quite serendipitous as the Boston Red Sox won the World Series during the course of filming and footage was taken of the stars celebrating at an actual World  Series game. That extra bit of magic makes the film feel like more than a remake of the British football film.

3. Kingpin (1996)

If not for “The Dude,” this would be the greatest bowling movie of all time. Underrated for whatever reason, Woody Harrelson stars as Roy Munson, a former bowling prodigy who messed with the wrong crowd and lost his hand. With a comical latex replacement over his hook (early use of characters with handicaps), Munson recruits a dopey Amish guy named Ishmael (Randy Quaid) and vicariously coaches him in hopes of hitting the map again. Bill Murray has a fantastic supporting role as self-obsessed rival bowler Ernie McCracken.

2. Dumb & Dumber (1994)

Peter and Bobby Farrelly really threw critics a softball by naming their very first film “Dumb & Dumber.” If it had sucked, their aspirations as comedic filmmakers would have been completely obliterated. If you need a reminder about how peeing in bottles and crapping uncontrollably are indeed funny, watch this again, or at least appreciate how every other comedy (especially road trip comedies) since then has tried to employ similar tactics and you’ve thought “how gross and unoriginal.” Harry and Lloyd (Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey) play two dolts from Rhode Island (yup) who get caught up with thugs when they come in contact with a briefcase belonging to an alluring woman who left it in the limousine that Lloyd drove, before he got fired. Lloyd convinces Harry to travel with him to Aspen to return the briefcase and avoid the thugs, whom they believe to be debt collectors.

1. There’s Something About Mary (1998)

In comedy, pioneering is everything. While you have to wonder how the Farrelly Bros. haven’t topped this in more than a decade, you have to remember that in movie comedy, once you’ve gone there, somebody’s been. It’s very hard to consistently score hits and improve upon yourself as a comedic filmmaker.

The first R-rated comedy the brothers ever made, “There’s Something About Mary” took pet humor and sexual humor to a new level, primarily in that hair gel will never looked at the same way again. American audiences were smitten by Cameron Diaz, who flickered a bit after her debut in “The Mask” but exploded as a rom-com icon in the film. The same thing happened to Ben Stiller. As such, “Mary” stands as the fifth highest grossing “romantic comedy” of all time (depending on your definition of romantic comedy). Comedies that do that kind of business become models for future comedies and there’s no question folks like Judd Apatow (a collaborator of Stiller’s at the time), took note before making films like “Anchorman” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

The brothers may never top “Mary,” but one contribution as significant as that in the world of making comedies in Hollywood counts for a heck of a lot. If someone ever makes comedy history books, the Farrelly Brothers will have their place in it.

After “Hall Pass,” the brothers will embark on their most ambitious project yet, a “Three Stooges” movie that will not be a biopic, but an actual “Three Stooges” movie. Rumors are currently afloat for who will play the trio, but regardless, it’s a perfect fit.

8 Comments

  1. JL says:

    I think their work has started slipping over the years. The Heartbreak Kid I actually didn’t care for. And Fever Pitch, just seemed generic to me. Wasn’t all that funny that I remember either.

    I’d definitely rank Stuck on You higher than that as well. I thoroughly enjoyed that movie. I guess my top 5 would be
    1. Mary
    2. Dumb and Dumber
    3. Kingpin
    4. Me, Myself and Irene
    5. Stuck on You

    All that said, despite them seemingly losing a bit over the years, I am anticipating seeing Hall Pass. The premise sets the stage for plenty of hilarity. The trailers have looked funny. Definitely does look like Owen will be a great fit in a Farrelly Brothers movie. I’ll have to wait and see how it turns out, but it’s definitely one I’ll get around to checking out.

  2. Steven says:

    Yeah, “Fever Pitch” wasn’t exactly in their traditional vein, that probably explains the generic feeling. We’ll see with Hall Pass how things shake up, I’m seeing it today.

  3. cell989 says:

    Dumb&Dumber will always be my all-time favorite comedy movie

  4. Henry says:

    1. Mary
    2. Shallow Hal
    3. KingPin
    4. Dumb & Dumber
    5. All the rest are so-so…and unrated (sorry)

    Farrelly Brothers are awesome! “Frank & Beans”

  5. richie says:

    1.) dumb and dumber
    2.) kingpin

    those are the top 2, something about mary is in the top 5 as is me myself and irene. stuck on you and heartbreak kid were both pretty good. but id say their 2 classics are kingpin and dumb and dumber. kingpin is woefully underrated, bill murray and woody harrelson are absolutely brilliant and hilarious is that movie.

    i have no clue how people think something about mary is funnier than dumb and dumber or kingpin, those movies are 10 times funnier than something about mary. something about mary was their most “commercial” film i guess, but it really isnt as funny as its made out to be, still a funny movie, but not hilarious.

  6. Steven says:

    I do have to agree with you Richie, but only as far as the laughs go. I chose “Mary” because it was somewhat ground-breaking as far as gross-out humor and their most universally liked film.

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