Yesterday's entry about The Hangover got me thinking about how much expectations shape one's movie-going experience. The buzz on that film was so good, both before and after I saw it, that it honestly probably made me like it a little less because I was anticipating something that would make me pee myself, and I only got a steady stream of chuckles. This was confirmed by Lance's comment that he saw it after I had told him it was overrated, thus lowering his expectations. Of course, he loved it.
I have no better example of this than today's subject, the much-beloved Something About Mary. I went to Europe for two-and-a-half months after graduating college in 1998. It was an amazing experience, but I passed up some things happening back in the states. One was the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, although that played on the news in every country; the commentary was just in another language. Another was the Sosa/McGwire home run duel, which I really lamented missing out on at the time, only getting sporadic updates from the occasional USA Today. Considering the fervent anger, moralizing, and betrayal most people now express when talking about baseball that summer, I'm o.k. without those memories.
There were three big films that summer that people were talking about across the pond. Armageddon came out first, which unfortunately forced me to listen to that sappy Aerosmith song in every Euro bar. It was out of theatres by the time I got home; I settled for an underwhelming viewing on vhs. Saving Private Ryan was still playing when I got home, and even though I'd heard a ton about how viscerally real it was, it completely blew me away. Eleven years later, it still sets the standard for modern war epics.
The third, obviously, was Something About Mary. Even in Europe, I heard and read plenty about how hilarious and ground-breaking it was. It was setting box office records for a summer comedy. Everyone and their mother had already seen it twice. As the weeks wore on, the newspapers were less restrictive about revealing spoilers, and I got the gist of some of the jokes. Thus, the "hair gel" scene that was so shocking for patrons during the film's first few weeks was already pretty much spelled out for me. As was the ball-zipping, the sun-dried boobs, and the handicapped humor.
I saw it with a British friend of mine who had come with me to visit America. We went on a weeknight, and there were probably five other people in the theatre. It was definitely at the tail end of the movie's run. I'm sure I probably snorted or guffawed a few times, but I left the film thinking one part was legitimately hilarious: The end scene where Stiller calls Brett Favre "Fav-ruh?"
The whole rest of the movie struck me as one sight gag set piece after another. From the prom night accident to Dillon's oversized white teeth to Chris Elliot's skin rash to the completely absurd and unfunny resuscitation of the dog, the gay rest stop, in addition to the other bits I'd already mentioned, it felt like the plot existed merely as a vehicle to get to the next over-the-top gross-out joke.
Both my friend and I were completely underwhelmed. We walked out of the theatre and both said, "I don't get it." This was what all the clamor and praise was about?
I've watched it in pieces since then. It's still no better than a slightly amusing movie to me. Would my feelings about it be different if I'd watched it during opening week in a packed theatre? Undoubtedly.
But I didn't. So I have to go with what I saw.
Nolanometer final grade: C+