Foul-mouthed but feel-goodBy Roy Rodenstein
Directed by Michael Corrente
Written by Peter Farrelly, Michael Corrente, Bobby Farrelly, based on the novel by Peter Farrelly
With Shawn Hatosy, Jon Abrahams, Tommy Bone, Alec Baldwin, George Wendt
Let’s get right down to the question on everyone’s mind: how does Outside Providence compare to There’s Something About Mary? Written by the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, both movies are funny and offbeat, but that’s where the similarities end. Where Mary relied largely on visual gags and broad comedy, the forte of Providence is dialogue and humor based on down-to-earth situations. In all, Providence is a raunchy but surprisingly affecting comedy about the dazed and confused ’70s.
The movie centers on Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), lovingly nicknamed “Dildo” by his old man (Alec Baldwin). A down-and-out teen in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Tim and his friends bemoan their boredom and engage in frequent recreational drug use to pass the time. Tim is particularly close to his wheelchair-bound brother Jackie (who “fell off the roof while playing touch football”), to his three-legged one-eyed dog, and to his buddy “Drugs” Delaney. This not-quite-idyllic life is changed after a minor run-in with a parked cop car, upon which the old man enrolls Dunph at the strict Cornwall Academy.
At Cornwall, Tim meets Wheeler, a young James Spader look-alike, and Jane, a Brown-bound intellectual won over by Tim’s unpretentiously rebellious personality. The gang has some usual and unusual dealings with Mr. Funderberk, the insufferable headmaster, and engages in yet more recreational drug use. Back in Pawtucket, old man Dunphy plays cards with Joey (George Wendt) while the other card sharks try to be intolerant and prejudiced against Joey’s uncommon lifestyle choices -- but fail miserably.
The movie is anchored by a terrific performance by Hatosy, a relative unknown despite appearances in several high-profile movies. When Tim tells Jane’s parents that he plans to go to college, her father inquires, “Any one in particular?” to which the response is “Yeah ... probably.” Hatosy gets away with such lines by playing the character with complete frankness. Tim may be a junkie, but he’s no less of a simpleton for it. Baldwin, in a strong and controlled performance, plays the old man in a similarly plain vein, giving his son advice on “making sex” but letting him hitchhike back to school after break instead of giving him a ride. Tommy Bone’s Jackie is easily the most together member of the Dunphy family.
While the lowbrow dialogue is right on, the plot itself is wobbly. The romance between ambitious Jane and good-enough Dunph is pushed along giddily, until it eventually derails from any sort of believability, and a minor subplot about betrayal is similarly out to lunch. Where it counts, however, the writing is crisp and funny. “Do you have a friend named Drugs?” the principal interrogates Tim after intercepting a letter from Delaney. As the principal proceeds to read it out loud, the parallel flashback showing Drugs hazily eking the words out is delirious.
Aside from this scene, the direction, this time not by the Farrellys but by co-writer Michael Corrente, is competent but uninteresting. The soundtrack is packed with appropriately recognizable hits, yet the movie is confident enough to never let the music overshadow it. Although there are occasional profane or distasteful bits, Outside Providence never relies on them for sham humor or shock value. There are no jokes at the expense of the dog and those at Jackie’s expense are harmlessly boneheaded. Dysfunctional though they are, Tim’s relationships with his father, brother, and friends are all caring and earnest, and they make for a funny, upbeat comedy -- a pleasant late-summer surprise.