The most impressive thing about the Farrelly Brothers is how warm and accepting they are of those Hollywood taunts or ignores completely. The brothers’ entire body of work is inspiring in that they always treat the misunderstood or the disabled as human beings. They don’t pander and they don’t mock, they just exist. The Farrellys are among Hollywood’s great moral filmmakers not just because of how their protagonists grow better as they overcome trials, but because they don’t sacrifice others for the sake of the protagonists.
With this in mind, The Heartbreak Kid stands alone in the Farrelly canon as being about a morally reprehensible man who refuses to change by the end. The only proper link it has to the rest of the canon is its precursor of sorts, There’s Something About Mary. Both have Ben Stiller playing a 30-40 year old unsatisfied with his love life and in both this leads him to manipulating a woman in an effort to finally be with his dream girl.
The real difference between the two is that Mary never really admits its protagonist is that flawed. Its large cast of conceited suitors effectively masks his flaws. At least he hasn’t been hit with a restraining order or drugged a dog like those other schmucks, right? Mary’s protagonist ends up winning her over because he realizes his flaws and admits his failings (though the way he does it/speaks could be viewed as subtly manipulating), a first step towards his possible redemption.
The Heartbreak Kid denies the optimism present in Mary. This time the Farrellys show that some people refuse to change and you shouldn’t waste your time involving yourself with them. Eddie (the protagonist) is so thoroughly a manipulative asshole that he infects the very film itself, making the surface reading that of an unlucky average joe who is beset on all sides by incomparable idiots. Malin Akerman plays Eddie’s new wife, who undergoes a transformation from beautiful dream woman to monstrous wife in seemingly un-Farrellian ways.
The Farrellys shoot everything pre-wedding with effortlessly subtle form. The first montage is filled with the camera moving slowly away from the environment and into a close-up kiss, this then leads to the camera moving away from them in a new environment. This conveys the emotions perfectly, they are blissfully in love and the droll happenings around them cease to matter. A carefree scenic bike ride that leads to a sudden crash serves to highlight how they will change later on. Eddie for now is capable of compassion; Lila shows her humanity with humor and charm.
The Heartbreak Kid practically becomes an entirely different film after they are married, altering characters completely and reining their comedic beats in to only service their overarching themes. You’re not going to have an abnormally resilient cow or hair gel mix-up style hijinks anymore (Except the hot tub breasts… or the attempted hand job). The Farrelly’s have now entered the zone of subverting their usual comedic tendencies to highlight the uncomfortable and immoral thoughts Eddie is having now that Eddie has met another woman who seems to be even better. Earlier in the film, his friend reminds him that he always has reasons to ruin his relationships and now we’ve entered his mindset completely. Lila’s morphed into a god damn monster. Earlier when a gag had her crash the bicycle it still portrayed her warmly, now it’s only mean spirited jokes to point out how stupid or indecent she is (Sunburn, singing, sex sequences, pissing on his jellyfish stings). It’s character assassination, and that’s exactly the point because Eddie needs to create a backdoor for whenever he wants to leave. At one point, he calls his father who calls him out on his bullshit “You think your wife’s a nutcase because on your honeymoon, in a tropical paradise, she’s singing a lot, wanting to have sex around the clock, and, accidentally, she got a little too much sun?”. If she is how the film portrays, then why does he have to lie and manipulate everyone? And if she really is a monster and Eddie’s actions are reasonable, then why is it we still feel compassionate towards her?
Eddie is probably the most ‘normal’ of the Farrelly protagonists while Lila becomes a prime example of their outcasts, yet Eddie becomes perhaps their shittiest human being yet. Even the wife who plots to murder her husband in The Three Stooges isn’t this consistently awful, she’s a loony caricature complete with breast sound effects. Eddie is eventually exposed and loses everything he had, he uproots his life and moves to the resort he honeymooned at and opens a scuba gear rental shop. In the final minutes, the woman he met returns to the resort roughly a year later and admits she has been in love with him the whole time. Eddie and her arrange to meet later in the day. He then talks to his second wife, and informs her that their anniversary plans will have to be delayed until later in the night. Eddie has revealed himself to be unable to change, a damning repeated cycle of events he seems to not learn from or have any interest in learning from. At this point we have grown tired of him, the only way to stop the endless cycle is to cut all ties suddenly and brutally, just as the film does.