Movie Review By Casey McCabe
"Outside Providence" is the kind of small, personal film you get to make after you've made a couple hugely profitable films. The you in this case is the writer/producer team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly, they of "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" fame. And even with that kind of clout, they reportedly went outside the system for this one, financing the production with the aid of star-struck orthodontists - - saviors of many an independent film.
How small a film is "Outside Providence?" It's about growing up in Rhode Island. How personal is it? It's based on a semi-autobiographical novel Peter Farrelly wrote before becoming Hollywood's latest 800 pound gorilla. How much of a departure is it for the new godfathers of bodily function comedy? Well now there's the trick.
"Outside Providence" is the story of young pothead Tim Dunphy, played by Shawn Hatosy, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks with his widowed blue-collar father, played by Alec Baldwin, his physically crippled little brother, and his mentally crippled neighborhood buddies including a best-friend named Drugs. Skanky hairstyles, Plexiglas bongs and Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 8-Track let us know this could only be the 1970s.
After crashing his car into the back of a police cruiser and getting busted, Dunphy is trundled off to prep school for some serious straightening out. There he will successfully court the prettiest girl in school and win over the privileged preppies, who turn out to prefer partying over studying as much as Dunphy himself. This is all done surprisingly true to character, without resorting to the great stretches on which these things often depend. And there lies the small but nagging problem with "Outside Providence."
The advance publicity desperately wants to tout the Farrelly brothers' outrageous brand of humor. Fortunately, it's not that outrageous. The sex, drugs and bodily function jokes are in-context and believable. So is the film's time-honored storyline of a young man trying to earn his father's approval. But truth is, our protagonist Dunphy is a sweet but really quite stupid young guy. That's a reliable source for the humor, and even for much of the poignancy the film manages to pull off. But by the end of "Outside Providence," Tim Dunphy remains a sweet but really quite stupid young guy. I believed him. I even felt for him. But I was left wondering why I really needed to spend two hours of my life reliving his.
The real lesson in "Outside Providence" is that sometimes just being small, personal, and heartfelt isn't enough. Nor is successfully capturing the essence of time and place. To which I propose a moratorium on coming of age in the '70s movies. I once played air guitar to "Free Bird" myself. I just don't like to be reminded of it.
© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 8/99
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