Did you ever see those annoying pop-up online ads about looking up old high-school friends? Did you ever stop to think that this movie is probably responsible? Really, there could be no other impetus for people to want to revisit the horrors of young adulthood then this sterling advertisement for reaching back and reclaiming the best of your past.
Ben Stiller is a sad-eyed magazine writer named Ted who never got over the girl of his high school dreams, Mary, who vanished from his life after a single date in which getting horizontal meant being carted away in an ambulance. Ted has seedy detective Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) investigate a lead in Miami. Healy finds her and reports back that she's a walrus in a wheelchair. Ted thinks maybe he should check up on her anyway, to see if he can be helpful to her, but Healy explains she's now en route to Japan as a mail-order bride.
Ted: What are they, desperate! She's a whale.
Healy: It's a sumo culture. They pay by the pound.
Actually, Healy is not being entirely truthful. Mary is single, ambulatory, and quite the fox in the form of Cameron Diaz. By the time Ted learns the truth, Healy's already putting on the moves on Mary with the help of a fake identity and a pair of gargantuan dentures. To counter this, without himself being exposed as a `stalker,' Ted has to reintroduce himself under similarly false pretenses. Will Mary go for this old near-flame? And what will happen when she learns the truth?
A winning romantic comedy with gut-busting boundary-breaking bathroom humor and a sly sense of what makes people tick, `There's Something About Mary' is impossibly optimistic and reassuring even as it buries your head in the gutter for cheap laughs. That's probably what redeems it and makes it such a
joy to watch over and over again, the fact that this proto-`American Pie' has a real heart. The makers of the film, Peter and Bobby Farrelly, reveal in their DVD commentary that Ted's reaction to Healy's news of Mary's condition is the key to making the film work, and they are right.
Frankly, I could live in a world without `American Pie' and so many other stupid raunch-fests of its ilk, but `Mary' is pure gold all the way through. Not only is the comedy saved by virtue of its brilliance (I never heard a theater laugh so hard all the way through as I did seeing this in a stuffy Greenwich, CT cinema), it's also a very cleverly put-together film, with a lot of plot twists that hold up as well as the humor during repeat viewings. It's interesting to read people's comments and see them say that it would have been a good film if they had held off on the bad-taste stuff. That was kind of what put it on the map in the first place, the `hair gel' scene and Magda's breasts and Ted's zipper problems, but I see what they mean. You almost could make this film into a Hallmark romantic film, with minimal comedy of any kind, and it would still be interesting. I don't think I'd watch it 23 times like I have this version, however. The film never stops upping the ante on the ick-meter, a large part of what makes it brilliant.
Diaz and Stiller blend very well together, with special kudos to Diaz for being so utterly wonderful and charming in the title role. You understand what the title means without ever having it explained. Also terrific are the supporting players, major ones like Matt Dillon and Chris Elliott as well as Harland Williams as the six-minute abs guy and, of course, Puffy the dog. Jonathan Richman and his drummer are especially valuable in their cameo bits that bookend the various acts in the movie, with songs that manage to be as funny and affecting as the show they are built around. And the end credit sequence is the all-time best. I still smile when I hear `Build Me Up Buttercup' on the radio, don't you?