Peter and Bobby Farrelly‘s There’s Something About Mary was one of the biggest hit comedies of the 1990s, and it’s famous for a few things: Shocking, over-the-top gross-out gags, the start of Ben Stiller‘s long run as a put-upon romantic leading man, a luminous, movie-star performance from Cameron Diaz, and its seemingly firm belief that the line between romance and obsession can be fairly thin.
And that’s the thing about the movie: It takes the most eligible bachelorette ever to live, surrounds her with creepy stalkers, and has her end up with the least objectionable of those stalkers, mostly because he’s played by Ben Stiller and has endured endless bodily humiliations over the course of the previous two hours.
There’s Something About Mary was released in July of 1998, 25 years ago this week, and it was a massive sleeper comedy hit that summer. The famous gross-out bits were never the funniest thing about the movie — I always thought they took a backseat to the character beats, and the fantastic dialog. The film is also great at setting things up — characters named “Woogie” and “Brett,” the bit about highway rest areas — that it later pays off. It’s still a very, very funny movie, even if that very weird central conceit is hard to get past.
Stiller plays Ted Stroehmann, who, in the prologue, is a teenager who manages to get “It Girl” Mary (Diaz) to go to the prom with him. But after an extremely unfortunate zipper accident, his prom plans are scuttled and he doesn’t see Mary again for years.
Now in his early 30s, Ted is still obsessed with the girl he liked in high school. But it turns out, so is just every other man, from his best friend (Chris Elliott) to the private detective he hired to find her (Matt Dillon), to a pizza guy executing a long con by pretending to be an architect on crutches (Lee Evans), to a certain superstar NFL quarterback of the era.
And yes, the movie is completely aware of how creepy it is for a guy Ted’s age to be singularly obsessed with a girl he briefly knew in high school. The men all constantly accuse each other of being stalkers — and they’re all right. This is something that wouldn’t work in a movie today — nor does Ted do nearly enough to redeem himself. But it’s not something, contrary to the below tweet, that the film ignores.
Mary ends the movie by choosing Ted over Brett Favre — the only man in the movie who didn’t stalk or lie to her — only because he played for the Packers and she supports the 49ers. Then again, knowing what we’ve since learned about Brett Favre, he might have been the biggest scoundrel of them all.
The film really does do everything it can to establish Mary — she’s beautiful, brilliant, cool, and conversant about beer, golf, and pro football — as the most desirable woman who has ever existed. She is, in case you doubted it, a very male-written character, and also someone who easily forgives wildly unforgivable stuff, over and over again.