“You sold my dead bird to a blind kid?”
It’s the film that brought us the high concept, gross-out comedy sensibilities of Peter and Bobby Farrelly and it has some of the most memorable laughs of the 90s. The filmmaking brothers would go on to create a mixed bag of obnoxious, offensive, and hit or miss work that steadily grew tiresome while revealing they were for all intents and purposes one-trick ponies. Just because the trick wasn’t able to sustain the public’s love, however, doesn’t mean it wasn’t riotous at the beginning even if Dumb and Dumber‘s plot reads like the blueprint for complete and utter failure. After all, why would anyone want to watch two grown men acting like children for two hours? Its jokes are easy, obvious, and annoying to the point of wondering whether you’re laughing with them or at them, but it works.
Watching it two decades later exposes a healthy portion of its appeal as the result of nostalgia. I knew this would probably be the case, but I hoped I might be wrong. The third act drags excruciatingly slow once its steady stream of skits fall away into the necessity of finishing the plot loosely tying things together. The idea of two idiots stumbling through a kidnapping situation grows old too since we never actually care whether the man being held for ransom lives or dies. No, we’re simply basking in the lunacy of Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne’s (Jeff Daniels) attempts to woo this mystery man’s wife, Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly). We know neither has the capacity to charm her away; we just want to experience the train wreck of their believing they can.
The Farrellys and co-writer Bennett Yellin crafted two characters that more than live up to the title. Lloyd is dumb and Harry dumber—the distinction made because of the former’s delusions allowing him to believe he’s more than reality proves. Carrey is masterful at portraying this sense of superiority by embarrassing himself seconds before snottily laughing at Daniels’ own moronic act as though he’s better than his friend. In fact, Daniels’ Harry finds impossible moments of mathematical clarity (“You drove a sixth of the way across the country in the wrong direction”) that make you scratch your head until realizing they arrive through spontaneity and anger. Things go wrong for Harry when he’s allowed time to think because the mix of low self-worth and juvenile ADHD have a tendency of drowning those glimpses of clarity without fail.
Harry is also a softie—something makes him pliable to Lloyd’s whims. The latter only has to put on the waterworks of sorrow for a minute before Harry agrees to drive him from Providence to Aspen so he can return a forgotten suitcase to the girl of his dreams. A simple road trip buddy flick catalyst, the Farrellys make things more interesting by filling the piece of luggage with ransom money Mary was leaving for hired criminals Mental (Mike Starr) and Shay (Karen Duffy). Lloyd thinks he’s doing his future wife a service, but he has instead foiled her plans to retrieve the husband she’s lost. The cross-country trip therefore adds a chase element and turns our heroes’ ignorance into a superpower since they can’t be afraid or cautious when they’re too oblivious to realize they’re in danger.
This becomes the film’s charm because there’s energy in being completely unaware of what Lloyd and Harry might do in response to any given situation. That’s why them selling a decapitated parrot with its head taped back on to a blind kid is so hilarious—you’re not expecting it to occur. The sheer boldness of creating a blind little boy solely to be the butt-end of a joke is refreshing too, especially back in 1994. Nowadays you kind of figure some random occurrence like that will be included in every comedy, a truth that shows the Farrellys’ role as originators to earn the astronomical success their career possessed early on. Sadly they never evolved, rehashing the same things that became ubiquitous thanks to a slew of copycats. Back to that nostalgia again, those original gags are still gold.
Daniels clubbing Carrey with a cane; Carrey’s fantasy Kung Fu battle with a glorious Mola Ram climax; both squirting ketchup and mustard in their mouths to stop a hot pepper’s burn—I still laugh out loud thinking about each. The random absurdity and the endearing quality of both actors’ performances can’t help but win us over. Not even cheesy villains like Charles Rocket‘s Nicholas Andre derail the fun because you know he’ll be used to hilarious effect when the moment to end the nonsensical plot finally arrives. In the meantime we laugh at memorable cameos from Harland Williams, Fred Stoller, and NHL legend Cam Neely; smile at Lauren Holly’s flawless ability to appreciate these imbeciles’ company while also projecting an utter lack of romantic desire; and ready ourselves for the next head-smackingly dumb maneuver Lloyd and Harry make.