Screenplay : Peter Farrelly, Michael Corrente, and Bobby Farrelly (based on the novel by Peter Farrelly)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Shawn Hatosy (Timothy Dunphy), Amy Smart (Jane Weston), Alec Baldwin (Old Man Dunphy), Jack Ferver (Irving "Jizz" Waltham), Jon Abrahams (Drugs Delaney), Jonathan Brandis (Mousy), Gabriel Mann (Jack Wheeler), Scott Rabideau (Slater), David Vaillancourt (Crane), George Wendt (Joey)
My hunch is that a lot of people are going to see "Outside Providence" under the misconception that, because Peter and Bobby Farrelly were involved with the screenplay, the movie will be filled with "Dumber & Dumber" antics and "There's Something About Mary" outrageousness. And, my hunch is that a lot of people are going to leave the theater mad because what they will find instead is a clumsy, unfocused coming-of-age dramedy.
The film takes place in 1974 in utterly unscenic Pawtuckett, Rhode Island, where Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) is an unmotivated, long-haired slacker whose only interests involved hanging out and getting high with his friends. After he rear-ends a parked police car while on drugs, his distant, working-class father (Alec Baldwin) ships him off to a fancy Connecticut prep school for his senior year of high school.
Tim resents the move, but he soon settles into his new prep school environment, immediately making enemies with the anal dorm supervisor (Tim Crowe), sticking up for his downtrodden nerdy roommate (Jack Ferver), and finding the girl of his dreams, a bright girl named Jane (Amy Smart) who aspires to go to Brown University and loves smoking dope almost as much as Dunphy.
"Outside Providence" falls into a long line of prep school teenage movies, from "Class" (1983) to "Heaven Help Us" (1985) to "School Ties" (1992). Basically, there's not much new to unearth here, but that doesn't stop director Michael Corrente ("American Buffalo") from trying. All the generic cliches are in place, from Tim's outsider status as a working-class kid surrounding by the offspring of society's rich and powerful, to the sadistic dorm supervisor who has it out for Tim from the get-go. There are silly pranks, friends who turn out not to be friends, and lots of drug use. Most of the movie takes place in a cloud of bong smoke, making most of its ugly exteriors even uglier (this movie has to be the single worst advertisement for Rhode Island I can imagine).
When the movie is not adhering to generic plotlines and worn-out cliches, it wades into bizarre and uncomfortable territory that doesn't feel like natural extensions of the story, but rather filler material in a movie that doesn't know where it wants to go. Chief among these subplots are the sequences involving Tim's father and his beer-guzzling poker buddies. They sit around the table, spouting obscenities and an endless litany of homophobic remarks.
That is, until they find out that one of them turns out to be gay, at which time that person is rudely banished from the poker game. And then, perhaps in some sequence that was left on the cutting room floor, everyone reconciles with the homosexuality, and he is back at the table in the last scene, making self-reflexive gay jokes. All I could think was, Huh? Shouldn't the most important aspect of that subplot have been how the bigoted buddies managed to overcome their homophobia and accept a gay man at the table?
While the screenplay is a mess, some of the performances come close to giving the move a hint of salvation. Shawn Hatosy ("The Faculty") gives Dunphy just enough depth beneath his drugged-out exterior to make him interesting, and to almost justify why a girl like Jane would be interested in him. Alec Baldwin is alternately amusing and sad as Tim's paradoxical father, a stern man who doesn't know how to show love except through calling his son "dildo." Baldwin enacts a heavy New England accent and shows his stubbornness by constantly squinting his eyes; luckily, he appears in the movie only sporadically, so the heavily mannered performance doesn't quite overwhelm us.
It is always unfortunate when filmmakers who are typecast in one genre are unable to branch out. "Outside Providence" was obviously the Farrelly Brothers' attempt to show the world that there is more to them than toilet antics and gross-out jokes. To be fair, "Outside Providence" does show that the Farrellys can be sensitive (although, interestingly enough, "There's Something About Mary" was, in many ways, a more humane movie). But, while showing they can be sweet, they end up proving that they're better at being gross.
Copyright © 1999 James Kendrick