“I’m fucking with you, Ted.”
There’s something about Cameron Diaz. That much we can agree on. In The Mask, in My Best Friend’s Wedding, and now in There’s Something About Mary — which is something of a star vehicle for Diaz, even though she’s not the protagonist — she’s managed to do something special with roles that required a lot less. We’ve had differing opinions of Diaz’s 90s filmography on the podcast; I think My Best Friend’s Wedding is a sly, subversive take on the typical rom-com, whereas my cohosts are wrong. Unanimously, however, we’ve found Diaz to be a highlight in every film she’s in.
That’s somewhat surprising for an actress best known for headlining studio comedies and playing love interests. Despite two decades of solid, respectable work in all kinds of movies, she’s never quite escaped the 90s’ “saxophone effect,” which demanded that we ogle her when she first walked on screen in The Mask. When we think of Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary is inevitably one of the first films that comes to mind, even though it’s far from her juiciest role. She’s done bolder, weirder work, in films like Being John Malkovich, Any Given Sunday, Vanilla Sky, and The Counselor, but somehow her “happy hot chick” roles are the most definitive of her career. She’s rarely mentioned in awards season, and has never been nominated for an Oscar. (She’s racked up four Golden Globe nods, though.) It’s only in watching a bunch of late 90s movies in aggregate that I’ve really considered Cameron Diaz much at all, and I’ve decided she’s that rare thing — a bona fide movie star that’s underrated.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
July 15, 1998
Budget: $23 million
Opening Weekend: $13.7 million
Domestic Gross: $176.5 million
Worldwide Gross: $369.9 million
The title character in There’s Something About Mary is a fantasy babe for guys who definitely doesn’t deserve her. She’s a movie concoction who professes to spend all her time on stuff that macho dudes like, yet somehow still manages to look like a supermodel at all times. This is a cliche we’ve seen far too much of, even on this podcast — like in Kevin Smith movies, where women are expected to lower their standards all the way down to zero because God forbid men make the slightest effort to better themselves. There’s Something About Mary is guilty of this warped worldview, too, but only partly — because it’s also about how terrible men are to women, even if the hot, smart, funny woman still ends up with the doofus in the end.
Ben Stiller’s Ted is the rom-com slacker everyman we’ve come to know so well. Like many leading men in romantic comedies, a true audit of his behavior could very well result in a restraining order, if anyone stopped to think about it. What’s funny about There’s Something About Mary is that Ted encounters a series of increasingly more problematic men who all have the hots for Mary, and are willing to go disturbing lengths claim her as their prize. This eventually forces Ted to take a look at himself and remove himself from the hunt. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moral to this absurd story, but at least it’s there. It’s an evolution from Dumb & Dumber, in that sense, which gave no consideration to its women. There’s Something About Mary isn’t exactly a scathing critique of a movie like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, which has Courteney Cox’s so-called “character” jumping into bed with the noxious detective for no fathomable reason. But at least we’re on Mary’s side here — it’s clear that she’s in charge.
There’s Something About Mary is best remembered by its crude humor — Ted’s “frank and beans” getting caught in his zipper, that infamous jizz-in-the-hair gag. Very little of the comedy comes from character — these humiliating moments could happen to any protagonist in any comedy.Matt Dillon’s creepy Pat Healy is the guy who constantly seals his own fate with half-witted improvisations meant to impress Mary, whereas Ted just has terrible luck. He catches a fish hook in the cheek, becomes a murder suspect, and engages in mortal combat with Puffy the dog. These loosely connected vignettes are fitfully amusing — like the hitchhiker who advocates a get-rich-quick scheme, “7 Minute Abs.” But there’s a lot going on in There’s Something About Mary, and almost none of it builds on what came before. For me, the highlight is Lin Shaye’s leathery Magda, but she doesn’t serve any real purpose in the plot, either. She just makes us laugh, and then the Farrellys move on. That’s my overall takeaway from There’s Something About Mary — aside from the semen, not much of it really sticks.
There’s Something About Mary gets a casual endorsement from me as a raunchy comedy, if you like that sort of thing; I can’t think of another gross-out comedy from this era that’s actually better (but that isn’t saying much). There are a couple of great comedy beats, plus a lot of so-so ones, and it might be all for nothing if not for Cameron Diaz’s effortless magnetism, which gives us something to latch onto and root for in this sea of increasingly desperate losers. There’s Something About Mary features contorted genitals in jeopardy, canine mouth-to-mouth, misplaced ejaculate, and more — yet somehow, the grossest, most despicable thing in it remains Chris Elliott.