THE FARRELLY BROTHERS (There's Something About Mary) have been accused of dragging comedy down below lowbrow, but Outside Providence, based on Peter Farrelly's 1989 novel and adapted for the screen by the brothers and director Michael Corrente, tries very hard to be poignant between the gags.
directed by Michael Corrente
starring Shawn Hatosy, Alec Baldwin
now playing at Meridian and others
Shawn Hatosy, who reportedly got the starring role because he had the right teeth for the job (as in crooked and lovable), does well as Timothy Dunphy, a Pawtucket stoner kid who hits a cop car while hotboxin' it with his boys and gets shipped off to prep school his senior year. Alec Baldwin plays his hard-ass of a dad, grunting in a cranky Rhode Island accent and referring to his reefer-smoking son as "Dildo."
Once "Dunph" gets to prep school, the jokes revolve around how his blue-collar upbringing has not prepared him for life in such a place. Preppie boy Jack Wheeler, played by Gabriel Mann, who bears a creepy resemblance to a young James Spader, begins Dunph's initiation by referring to him cruelly as "Fonzie." But as it turns out, Jack and his buddies are herb friendly, and the boys bond by getting totally baked, man, all the time, and trying to avoid their nemesis, the resident director.
But pubescent high jinks aside, what every boys-coming-of-age movie needs is the female object of desire. Jane, as it turns out, is her name (or "Venus," as the soundtrack suggests when she first appears). See Jane run. See Jane smoke dope. Isn't Jane a hottie? At least we got some sense that there really was something about Mary. Jane (Amy Smart), on the other hand, is just sort of there for Dunph to pine after, for a whole two minutes of screen time. Even though Wheeler tells Dunph to "forget it," as in "she's way out of your league," Jane turns out to be a fairly easy catch. All Dunph has to do is amuse her parents by being thoroughly ignorant and pour a little rum into her Coke (surreptitiously, of course).
What we know of Jane is that aside from her cream-fed good looks, she studies as hard as she parties and wants to go to Brown University. I won't ruin it, but the big plot complication involves Brown ("Hey, there's one of those in Providence") and Dunph getting stoned off his ass (again). But just like the supposed "conflict" of being a working-class boy amongst a bunch of snobbish prigs, this twist in the plot gets tied into a pretty little bow, and pretty fast.
The relationship between Dunph and Old Man Dunphy, weird accent aside, is much more interesting than the love story, especially in its deliberate contrast of male bonding as it differs from the father's generation and his son's. Dunph's mother (the only other female character) died when Dunph was young, and the resolution of Dunph and his father's memories of her makes for the movie's big cathartic scene.
In its smaller details, Outside Providence can be quite funny, and there are some of those hilarious "Farrelly moments" involving a three-legged dog, a wheelchair-bound kid, and a letter written under the influence by a fellow named "Drugs Delaney." But ultimately, all the masturbation jokes and pot resin get old after a while, and the serious discoveries the film tries to make—like the strange introduction of homosexuality into the story—come too easily. It's kind of like Good Will Hunting, only funnier when it's funny and less irritating the rest of the time. But it's still a movie about guys hangin' out, which feels too often like the same old thing we did last week.