Photo by Noel Sutherland

IF PETER AND BOBBY FARRELLY — THE WRITER-DIRECTOR team behind Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary — came at us solely from a position of entrenched adolescence, their ever-expanding arsenal of butt cracks, swollen testicles, cum gags and flatulence would be neither as piss-your-pants funny nor as embraced by such a wide audience. It would also be a lot harder to overlook the fact that the arcs of their bawdy fables follow the most formulaic of paths. Instead, the Farrellys are always sure to wrap their formulas and gross-out antics in a sustained innocence. Which is what separates their misfits from the mere miscreants of similarly minded yuk fests. To put it another way, they manage to distill from adolescence almost all traces of malevolence. Who, then, better to tell a coming-of-age tale?

Adapted by the Farrellys and the film's director, Michael Corrente, from Peter Farrelly's semiautobiographical first novel, Outside Providence is an often hilarious ode to hometowns, pot, first loves and young fuckups everywhere. And yet it's not exactly what we've come to expect from the Farrellys, if only because it takes place in a world where ejaculant — à la Mary — could never, ever get that misplaced. Namely, it's set in the real if nostalgia-tinged world of blue-collar Pawtucket, Rhode Island, circa 1975, where raunchy humor is as much an escape from the daily grind as it is an integral part of it. Even after Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) helps his wheelchair-bound little brother (Tommy Bone) with his paper route — towing him with his bike and followed by their three-legged dog, Clopsy — the soon-to-be high school senior still has to endure the nickname his father throws at him whenever he gets the chance: “Dildo.”

It's not like the slow-witted Dunphy is entirely undeserving of the name. Cruising to the throb of “Mississippi Queen” with his crew — a shaggy band of denim-skinned small-town party boys — a stoned Dunphy plows into a parked cop car. The punishment meted out by the court and Dunphy's hard-assed dad (Alec Baldwin) is a trip to a tight-assed prep school, a veritable bastion of straight men who are repelled by stink fingers, dope-hazed dorm parties and Dunphy's defensive rebel cool. Almost as soon as he steps on campus, Dunphy awkwardly begins a star-crossed romance with his dream girl, Jane (Amy Smart), and receives the first of his ever-accumulating detention hours after smoking with his roommates from an oil-drum bong.

The prodigious pot-induced befuddlement in the film plays not only like a Farrelly tribute to what is no doubt an important sector of their fan base, but also as a sort of appeasement. In between all the tokes and jokes, there's a little maturity in the offing as well. As alluded to by the home-movie footage that opens the film, the story's heart lies near Dunphy's rocky relationship with his dad and the still-open wounds from his mother's suicide. We get a hint of the family's past hardships when, in a surprisingly melancholic flashback, we see Dunphy's mom dreamily shoot the bulbs off a Christmas tree with a BB gun. But it's the ever-protective air that Hatosy gives his character, and Baldwin's perfectly impacted performance as a tough-love provider (the actor gets some of the best lines in the movie), that carry the seeds of the father-son confrontation to come.

The slide between carefree goofs and more serious matters in Outside Providence often seems like a balancing act between the Farrellys' urges and Corrente's concerns (his first feature, Federal Hill, is a serious drama about a young Italian-American trying to move beyond his mobster friends). In Providence, a knockabout slap between drunken pals is answered with a later, not-so-funny scene when Dunphy's dad wallops him after his arrest. Dunphy's own comic auto accident is echoed as an offscreen tragedy when Drugs, Dunphy's best stoner friend, dies in a car crash. But if it sounds like the film is at odds with itself, it isn't. Because Corrente, a Rhode Island native like the Farrellys, succeeds at the improbable task of grounding even the most outlandish of his collaborators' material — a dart in a forehead and a secret-society circle jerk, for instance — in a real sense of place and character. It's a blending of sensibilities that can make the tough moments touching and help the lighter sequences fly that much higher.


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