20 Years Ago
Throughout your life, you’re going to have memorable movie-going experiences. Be it something that happens at the theater itself or in the movie (or both), certain nights out just make an indelible impression on you. As a frequent movie-goer basically since I was old enough to walk, I’ve had quite a few of these experiences. One of the most enduring and unforgettable movie nights of my life came on December 16, 1994, the opening day of Dumb and Dumber. Most notably, it’s the only time in my life where I came within one strategic leg cross of peeing my pants in public. I’m not sure there has ever been another movie so perfectly geared for a 13-year-old boy, which I was at the time. We have stupid humor, potty humor, just-plain-wrong humor, slapstick, and just about anything other brand you can think of. I knew at the time that the movie was completely stupid (not even an insult in this case), but I had also never heard an audience laugh so hard for such sustained periods of time that I missed entire jokes on my first viewing. I would see Dumb and Dumber a handful more times theatrically, laughing just as hard each time.
20 Years Later
I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve seen Dumb and Dumber. Dozens? I’d say thirty times as a conservative estimate. The film has become such a quotable comedy staple in the years since that it’s taken on a life of its own. If I’m flipping through the channels and it’s on, I prop back the chair and watch whatever is left on the runtime. The repeat value is otherworldly. I can practically recite it and still can’t get through bits without laughing.
A notable part of why Dumb and Dumber still works as well it does is that it doesn’t feel dated. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, in their feature film writing and directing debuts, don’t throw in a bunch of mid-90’s pop culture jokes that would age the film terribly. It’s all tried-and-true comedy, from the puns to the slapstick to the toilet, performed at such a high level and with such great timing that it transcends many of its influences. Even the characters of Lloyd and Harry, played to perfection by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, aren’t a particularly original duo. It’s their chemistry and the hilarious situations they find themselves in that makes the material work.
Oh, those situations. A dissertation could be written on all the comedic bits in Dumb and Dumber. I’ll highlight two of my favorites. First:
The sheer number of quotable lines on display here is unbelievable. Twenty years later and “kick his ass, Sea Bass!” is still a staple in my circle of friends. You don’t even need a good reason to say it. Just say it. Next:
I will see many more movies in my life, but I am fully confident this will last as the greatest bathroom humor scene ever put to film. Most movies prior to this would settle for the poop or occasional fart joke. Dumb and Dumber set the new standard. The combination of the sound effects and Daniels’ acting, not to mention the payoff of Lloyd’s revenge on Harry, sends it to another stratosphere. Plus, this ordeal lasts for a minute! The Farrellys next few films, Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary, would use similar techniques in wringing every last drop out of a joke before it got too tiresome.
Looking back, it’s amazing what a low risk project this was for New Line. Sure, the Farrellys were new to the game, but they got Carrey, who’d had an amazing 1994 leading up to this with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask, and Daniels, an established actor known mostly for dramatic roles. On a mere $16 million budget Dumb and Dumber grossed $127 million theatrically, with another $63 million in rentals and who knows how much in sales. It’s proven to be a timeless classic already, and it will be very interesting to see what is in store with Dumb and Dumber To, set to hit theaters on November 14, 2014.
Footnote: Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd is awful and does not exist.