The Farrelly brothers’ oeuvre is marked by a diversity of tones and approaches, often influenced by their choice of star. Their subtle, simple (but not nonexistent) comedic form allows them to adapt to a myriad of contemporary comedic actors, their generosity being key to the transition from film to film. The rhythm and gag structures of Stuck on You have a great deal to do with their use of Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, whereas Ben Stiller is intriguingly reserved for their most scathing material. It is Jim Carrey that brings out their most Jerry Lewis-esque qualities. The fruitful but regrettably only two-film (for now!) relationship kicked off with Dumb & Dumber, the primordial ooze from which the rest of their films crawled. However, it is in Me, Myself & Irene that the directors’ partnership with Carrey, as well as their skills as filmmakers, really began to take shape.
Like many of their other films, Me, Myself & Irene is predominantly concerned with family, community, and the plight of outsiders and “freaks,” in both society and contemporary Hollywood cinema. It also contains some of their broadest comedy, suffuse with gags and throwaway moments (dying cow gag, anyone?). At its core, it’s a folk hero tale, the story of one man (men) uniting a small group of outcasts against a corrupt and violent system. It is the supreme achievement of the Farrellys that they recognized Carrey as ideal for this role; his rubber-faced schtick meshing beautifully with the split personality conceit at the film’s core. Perhaps most revealing of their talent is the fact that they were able to harness Carrey—a nearly impossible task for most filmmakers.
Carrey’s Charlie Baileygates is a prototypical Farrelly protagonist, an outcast unfit for “regular” society who, ironically, begins as their most outwardly regular character. Charlie isn’t deformed, handicapped, or beset by a physical ailment. Rather, he is a Farrelly character born from the common man, a victim of years of suppression, choosing a life of dissociation instead of facing the various emotional slights and injustices levied against him. The resulting eruption, his alter ego Hank, plays, predictably, as his opposite, a man driven by aggression and libido. The obvious comparison, Jerry Lewis’ Julius Kelp/Buddy Love from The Nutty Professor, while a more subtle variation on the idea, is helpful in appreciating the role of exaggeration in this case. For it is in their exaggeration that the Farrelly’s are most often misunderstood.
While it may be fair to say the simplification of the various mental and physical conditions present in their films could be interpreted as dubious, they are serving a rather different function, humanist at its core. Their approach towards these misfits is the most fair and loving to be found, simply because they allow them to be parts of the comedy, not subjects to be jeered at, and, critically, not necessarily moral saints punished by the uncouth in society. Rather, they are allowed to have the complexities, faults, and emotions of “regular” people. These exaggerations, their love for ludicrous prosthetics, allows their physical/mental defaults a striking existence within the frame, required for us to confront these issues right away. A more subtle playing of these elements would not allow the characters to enter the comedy. Their cinema best represents their critical point of respect demanded by those afflicted: to be treated like the rest of us.
Like Julius Kelp/Buddy Love, Charlie/Hank represents the exaggerated schism of a man. Like Buddy Love, Hank is largely repugnant, prone to bullying and and profane acts, but, like Love, is a necessary exorcism of suppressed emotion. This Jekyll/Hyde conceit, like Lewis’ film, works towards a more positive emotional state, the stability of a single man who has lived his worst side. Hank’s unbridled aggression, and Charlie’s subsequent confrontation with it, allows him to become the film’s folk hero.
It is established from the beginning that Charlie, while desperately in need of self-expression, is a good man, and more importantly, a family man. This gag-turned-resonant emotion, of Charlie caring for three African American, genius sons (products of his ex-wife’s infidelity) establishes him immediately as the center of an outcast family unit. While the dissociation from the reality of their origin is symptomatic of his serious condition, his undying love and devotion to them remains one of the most oddly successful facets of the film. Eventually, as Charlie begins adapting the resourceful aggression of Hank into his own personality, he gathers the titular Irene, as well as an albino waiter, into his family. It is only through their ultimate cohesion, and Charlie’s own moral cohesion, that they are able to fully triumph over the corrupt forces of the law and the mob, each family member playing an integral role.
The road film structure, as well as the gag rhythms of Charlie’s transformations, form the folk tale, until their characters are inadvertently setting out on a crusade against society’s more malignant forces. This, obviously and yet wonderfully, is played out by the hero’s internal conflict, a tried and true approach to themes. Indeed, when taken as a whole, Me, Myself & Irene is their most classical tale, relying on storytelling techniques and thematics older than the medium itself. Charlie Baileygates is ultimately rather utopian, a Farrelly character born of a normal man, and minted into a hero because of his difference. Like their other most optimistic and communal film, Stuck on You, the film liberates and unites the rejected, a Farrellian gesture if there ever was one.