Screwball movies were a hallmark of the 1980’s, but by the time the 1990’s rolled around it seemed as though the days of quality wacky fare aimed at teenagers had come and gone. However, Ben Stiller, who had come to the fore front through his work in films like Reality Bites and Happy Gilmore, pieced together one of the most successful comedies of the decade, There’s Something About Mary. Directed by the Farrelly Brothers (of Dumb and Dumber fame), the film was profane, deranged and filled with gross-out humor, but it also contained amazingly clever comedy that came completely out of left field.
The premise of the film itself borders on the ridiculous, with Ben Stiller’s character hung up on the girl he was denied taking to the prom due to a rather embarrassing and painful wardrobe malfunction. More than ten years later he is still so obsessed with the once would-be love of his life that he hires a private detective to track her down. The only trouble is, Mary, the object of his affection (played by Cameron Diaz) is so incredible that every man she meets falls desperately in love with her – including the aforementioned detective and her close male friends. Naturally, this complicates matters intensely for Stiller, to the point where he has to overcome a number of bizarre situations and potential suitors to prove himself to her.
The film’s focus on physical humor gave it a fast pace that pack so many laughs per minute that audiences were driven to tears by the relentless comedy. There are scenes in the film which have become a legendary part of 1990s lore, the most notorious being the one where Cameron Diaz’s character unknowingly uses Stiller’s ‘man-butter’ as an impromptu hair gel, giving her a rooster-like doo that she wears proudly during their dinner date.
There’s Something About Mary gave a huge boost to the careers of both Stiller and Diaz, with the former going on to produce many of his own bizarre comedies. Diaz would continue her trend of tackling both serious and campy roles, mixing in emotional dramas with light-hearted action and farcical fare. Her range as an actress would help her become one of the highest paid women in Hollywood, thanks in no small part to her turn as the lovable Mary.