By Indiewire | Indiewire September 3, 1999 at 2:00AM
REVIEW: "Outside Providence"-Sophomoric and Unsophisticated
by Danny Lorber
Advertised as a follow-up to Peter and Bobby Farrelly's smash comedy, "There's Something About Mary," this comedy-drama does have its outrageous "Mary"-like moments, including one particularly humiliating masturbation episode. But it's essentially a coming-of-age, boarding school yarn - set in the mid-1970s in blue-collar Rhode Island, and it follows all the conventions of that genre. There's nothing particularly interesting here, other than the fact that the work is in fact so drab, proving that Hollywood success and acclaim is often arbitrary and certainly not completely deserved.
Based on Peter Farrelly's autobiographical novel, which was written years before the brothers became a successful movie team, the script focuses a teenage rebel named Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), whose widowed, boozing, poker-playing father (Alec Baldwin) sends him off to a New England prep school in hopes that he'll straighten his act up.
There he finds a new way to rebel, but he also has his eyes opened to a new way of life, smokes great new dope and the lands the hottest chick in the school as his first girlfriend.
Before the movie is half over, you feel that you've seen everything in it somewhere before. The film is startlingly obvious and systematic - it lacks any sort of real meaning and originality. Timothy experiences little life lessons that are wrapped up way too easily and his family's actions seem so unbelievable. These people are sloppy and stupid and so "white trash" - and not for a moment do we see them do anything that would provide for any skills that would actually help them to survive in the world. The narrative moves along until its end - every dramatic moment seems specifically placed and scheduled, and the characters' actions are passionless and dramatically empty. The movie is completely weightless and unbelievable.
The film seems to mainly focus on the relationship between Timothy and his dad, which is the only semi-compelling aspect of the project, mostly because it's sort of entertaining to watch Baldwin contrive his mockery of a character (he's crass and fat with a big Providence accent) and to watch Hatosy's (who will soon be seen in a series of higher-profile movies ("Anywhere But Here," "Simpatico," "Joyriders") awkward, though occasionally endearing effort in the lead role.
Ultimately, "Outside Providence" is pretty sophomoric and disarmingly unsophisticated - one conspicuous example of said traits is the way the film presents and exposes a homosexual character in a lame "coming out of the closet" scene. The whole storyline here is totally episodic - any episode of "Dawson's Creek" or the like is more challenging in cinematic and narrative terms - this is really no more than mediocre television. The Farrellys, working this time with another writer-director, Michael Corrente ("American Buffalo," "Federal Hill"), are presenting us with a story that most of us could have easily created ourselves if we had the discipline and drive - yet their Hollywood status and popularity allowed for them to make millions from the desperate, money grubbing Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the film's distrbutor, Miramax. At this point, Miramax is the most uninspiring movie company that I know of, especially because they front as some sort of curators of the art film. The Weinsteins present the worse slate of films, artistically speaking, of any major studio or company in Hollywood. I don't think anyone else, other than the Weinsteins, would be so greedy as to re-release the fabulously successful (but artistically empty and offensive) "Life is Beautiful" dubbed in English, just to make a couple more bucks from whom they see as the idiots in middle America.
There are worse films out right now than "Outside Providence," but the sanctimony of its releasing company is infuriating to me, as I hope it is to other people who know what real movie art is about.