DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE (director/writer: Michael Corrente; screenwriters: Peter Farrelly/Bobby Farrelly/based on the novel by Peter Farrelly; cinematographer: Richard Crudo; editor: Kate Sanford; cast: Shawn Hatosy (Tim Dunphy), Jon Abrahams (Drugs Delaney), Jack Ferver (Irving Waltham), Amy  Smart (Jane Weston), George Wendt (Joey), Alec Baldwin (Old Man Dunphy), Tommy Bone (Jackie Dunphy), George Martin (Dean Mort), Gabriel Mann (Jack Wheeler), Tim Crowe (Funderberk); Runtime: 95; Miramax; 1999)

 
"It comes to the 'startling' conclusion that rich kids might do the same bad things working-class kids do, but get away with it because their money gives them privileges."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a lame coming-of-age film, yet Michael Corrente directs it with great sympathy for the characters, taking a lighthearted approach to some mild rebellion going on in the mid '70s, contrasting the lifestyles of both working-class and upper-class students. It comes to the 'startling' conclusion that rich kids might do the same bad things working-class kids do, but get away with it because their money gives them privileges.

The film plays as if it's a slogan for "stupid pride." A self-satisfied morality play railing  against bigotry but condoning personal conduct that is unethical, seems to be where it is going. A pot smoking teen, Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), from a blue-collar environment in Pawtucket, which is just outside Providence, gets into trouble with the law after his car smashes into a parked police car while he is high. It is arranged with the help of a mobster friend of his dad's, to get the judge trying his case to allow him to go to the elite Cornwall prep school in Connecticut instead of to jail.

To emphasize how dumb the kid is: when asked in the prep school class who his favorite author is, Tim says Hamlet. Tim sticks out in this snooty environment like a whore in a nunnery, wearing a dungaree jacket with an American flag on his back instead of the traditional blazer; and, instead of luggage, he arrives on campus with a garbage bag full of his clothes.

Old man Dunphy (Alec Baldwin), a bellicose single parent of two boys, plays poker with his reactionary lowbrow friends as they rail against the Jews and homosexuals while boozing it up, they even amusingly try to figure out if Rock Hudson is queer. Meanwhile, right under his nose, his son hangs out with a bunch of slackers, with the irrepressible Drugs Delaney (Abrahams) doing an imitation of how a stoned-out freak talks and acts. Tim's younger brother Jackie (Bone) is wheelchair-bound, who is used as a prop for some flippant one-liners by his family and friends as he is cut no slack for his physical condition. He enjoys hanging out with his older brother's druggie friends and listening to them sound each other out, and is supposedly being taught a valuable lesson in life: not to have self-pity. To show that the family is really a caring one the family pet is a three-legged mutt, who sports an eyepatch.

At the school, Tim meets all the stock characters you would expect in such a formulaic film. There is the rich, pretty, popular, down-to-earth, smart girl who has poise and class, Jane Weston (Smart). She will smoke pot and have a sweet non-sexual relationship with him, become accepted to Brown University and help persuade the disinterested student to study hard enough so that he could at least graduate and go to a junior college. There is, of course, the film's ogre, who is the school disciplinarian, Mr. Funderberk (Crowe). He will pick on all of Dunph's friends (he's called Dunph by his friends, his father affectionately calls him Dildo).

School life for Dunph falls into the routine of smoking weed, playing hockey, getting into minor trouble, and then trying to get out of trouble.

The students were all predictable one-dimensional characters: there is the nerd Irving (Ferver), who is looking for respect. Wheeler (Mann) is the sneaky student who rats out his friends to get the dean's recommendation to Yale. The other students Dunph hangs out with are all the ones who smoke pot like his friends back home, but do it in a more sophisticated way. Better bongs.

There are two events that have a great impact on Dunph: his mother committed suicide and his father never told him why. He eventually bonds with his gruff father after he graduates and learns in a heart-to-heart talk that his father loves him very much in his own way. He also learns that his mother was mentally ill. The second major event in Dunph's short life occurs when he invites Jane to his dorm room, and he's caught smoking pot by Funderberk. The dull scene that follows plays like typical TV sitcom trauma, as the innocent Jane is expelled and thereby Brown University declines to accept her. In the silliness that goes for either comedy or dramatics -- which wasn't funny or enlightening, just stupid and incredible, Dunph goes to the Brown University dean and pleads for Jane to be taken back. This supposedly proves that he learned something about personal responsibility at the prep school.

The poker players also ease up in their bigotry and let a gay card player (George Wendt) back in the game (this phony story contrivance was just absurd). The problem with all these resolutions were that all the characters were clichés, no character was fleshed out, and this film based loosely on Peter Farrelly's life never got untracked. The story might have been a heartfelt one for the author, who is the co-director with his brother Bobby of  "There's Something About Mary," but it had little impact on film and was very much underwritten. There was just no story to get into which was worth getting into, nor were any of the characters in the least bit interesting. Everything and everybody was trivialized with the purpose to force some comedy out of them, but the comedy never came about naturally. It all seemed like a futile effort to catch something about class status that had already been effectively caught by recent films such as "Rushmore " and "Slums of Beverly Hills."

REVIEWED ON 10/2/2000     GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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