The films of brother filmmaking duo Bobby and Peter Farrelly are seemingly ordinary bro-centric, mean-spirited comedies. The pair boast a filmography characterized by lowbrow humor (mostly involving sex and poop) and one-joke concepts; however, under scrutiny, the Farrellys’ films emerge as humanist love stories with a presentational flair for the grotesque and the absurd.
Their movies impress with a sensitivity to human feeling and an affinity for the truly strange and ridiculous and bear insight into the plight of victimized and societally disregarded individuals. Their twelfth film, “Dumb and Dumber To,” is their first sequel of any kind and returns to the blissful idiots who first headlined the Farrellys’ 1994 debut, “Dumb & Dumber.”
20 years removed from their cross-country schemes to get the girl and deliver a suitcase full of money, Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) is paralyzed and in an over-exaggerated aftershock from the events of the first film, housed in a sanitarium where his best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) visits him every Wednesday, quite literally wiping his friend’s ass and foolishly keeping him up-to-date on his own shambling life.
As the film proper begins, however, and the bulbous, colorful title card bursts onscreen, it’s revealed Lloyd has been playing a grand prank on his BFF. Lloyd occupied a wheelchair and feigned unconsciousness for two decades, extending what amounts to a flimsy charade blown up to oversized proportions. The gag is a bold announcement of the filmmakers’ aesthetic, in which characters will go to any length to create their own false image or guise. In many of their films, “I’m just fucking with you” is the most-uttered phrase, indicative of a filmography flush with deception and layers of aesthetic untruth, where genuine human connection is buried beneath constructions of humor and anarchic acts of protracted defiance.
Their newest effort is an unusual test case for this central juxtaposition. The narrative is essentially the same as the first film: An inciting incident—in this case, Harry discovering he has a fully-grown daughter he never knew existed—urges Lloyd and Harry to the road. The film proceeds from there, detailing the detours, hiccups, and distractions along the way.
“Dumb and Dumber To” makes for an interesting Farrellys film because, due to the abysmally low intelligence of both of its lead characters on which the series’ concept rests, we have little emotional access to these deranged men, and, in fact, they sometimes barely register as people at all. This means that the hard-earned, sweet humanism and sentimentality that marks almost every other entry into their oeuvre is an impossibility in either “Dumb and Dumber” film. A full embrace of the films’ emotional undercurrents is often obstructed by the spectacle of absurdity and bumbling slapstick behavioral insanity of its characters. Thus, the films are not the Farrellys’ most emotionally accessible outings, but their spectacle is fascinating enough nonetheless.
A depth of human feeling isn’t entirely shut out, though—the multiple fantasy dream sequences the filmmakers conceive for their protagonists are more imaginative than they were in the ’94 film, gleeful and endearing portals into the hilarious misjudgment, poor taste, and primitive deepest desires of Harry and Lloyd’s psyches, tender yet still biting interludes staged with as much panache and artistry as they are charming while staying loyally true to the characters’ idiosyncrasies and established personalities.
In addition, Carrey and Daniels’ performances attempt to convey the sadness and desperation of these sorry men underneath their unhinged lunacy with problematic but admirable commitment.
Carrey puts on a show among the funniest and most abstractly silly of his career, but he still sometimes grates on the nerves, his sheer devotion to the part translating into an actor trying a little too hard, adding an off-putting abrasiveness to his Lloyd that is distasteful, only made more so by the tiresome bathroom humor he returns to frequently throughout the film. Daniels is more successful, a gentler but equally misguided counterpart to Carrey’s character whom the actor brings to life with a glassy-eyed, flailing unkemptness that has the sneaking feel of a bruised, hurt vulnerability underneath. Both actors’ rubber-lipped bodily contortions and freakish gyrations are equal parts mesmerizing comic showcases and frustratingly opaque and impenetrable displays of alien behavior.
The way the Farrellys shoot their lead actors’ glowering, almost rabid faces in close-up detail in “Dumb and Dumber To” when a woman is in their sights is a boldly physical evocation of the demented exploitation and objectification of the female form by a male viewer. The film reduces heightened male authority to a joke, as it does every institution it encounters, including the worlds of wealth, science and basic interpersonal etiquette. The Farrellys’ films are less concerned with satirizing these environments as they are stripping them of their reputability and reducing them, like everything else they depict, as flawed and deformed, a furthering of their personal and audacious phantasmagoric anarchism.