The Farrelly Brothers discuss marriage, fidelity, The Flintstones, bathroom humor and their new comedy "Hall Pass"
By Ethan Gilsdorf
BOSTON --- Peter Farrelly loves his wife. He loves his kids. Yet, like many married men and women, he entertains wild visions of bachelor freedom. And for that impulse, in part, he blames "The Flintstones."
"I saw Fred come home and saw Wilma just rip into him. 'Where have you been?! Myna myna nya!'" Peter says, mimicking Wilma's high-pitched shriek that he recalls from watching the show as a kid. "I thought, why doesn't he just leave? ... I wouldn't put up with that."
Not wanting to put up with the day-to-day drudgery of marriage and its inherent declining sexual desire is the fantasy Peter and Bobby Farrelly tap into with their new comedy "Hall Pass," which opens today.
More so than with this fraternal filmmaking duo's previous films such as "Dumb and Dumber" (1994), "Me, Myself & Irene" (2002), "Fever Pitch" (2005), and their most commercially successful film, "There's Something About Mary" (1998), "Hall Pass" takes on a topic many comedies avoid: domesticity and the vast distance from singlehood that married couples must endure.
"We had all our friends at the screening last night," says Bobby. "I would say 98 percent of them are married. ... It's fun to do a story that most of them can seemingly relate to."
"This one is probably closer to our actual lives than any other movie we've done," Peter adds.
Loyal Farrelly brothers fans will be pleased to learn that, as always, bathroom humor is involved. But the film's premise isn't about giving a student a pass to head to the little boy's room. It's more like a "get out of jail free" card.
Caught ogling women and becoming wistful for their days before the chains of marriage and fatherhood, two friends (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) are given a week's break from the bonds of matrimony by their way-too-understanding wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate). Are they still on their game? Comedy ensues.
A bit off their own games, Peter and Bobby eat breakfast in a suite at the Ritz Carlton in Boston. It's the morning after a recent Boston screening of "Hall Pass," and despite being a little groggy from the night's festivities, the brothers still can't resist recounting how the two of them, plus their 80-year-old father, recently all went in for a colonoscopy together. "A triple header," Bobby, 52, deadpans (Peter is two years his senior). "Good times. We've done that twice."
But sharing a couch and a plate of pastries as they reminiscence about their path from Cumberland, Rhode Island, to Hollywood, the Farrellys aren't always the fart-joke, class-clown types you'd expect. Their material -- most of it -- is surprisingly PG-13 rated.
That said, the Farrellys do like to talk about women. And sports. When a reporter informs them he once lived in Baton Rouge, Shaquille O'Neal's former stomping grounds, they want to know if they have "really pretty girls down there." (They do.)
"If my wife came to me and said you can have a hall pass but I'm taking one, too, I wouldn't do it," says Peter, who dominates the discussion. (When Bobby speaks, he tends to let his eye wander to the window overlooking Downtown Crossing.) Running his fingers through his mop of brown hair, Peter continues, "but if she said you can have a hall pass; I'm staying home with the kids" -- he snaps his fingers -- "I would be out the door in about 30 seconds."
Just like Fred Flintstone.
"I would say girls are probably the single most alluring thing on the planet," Bobby says, his "the" more like "da," his Ocean State accent still coloring his speech.
But Pete, as his bro calls him, fesses up that if he played the dream of bachelor freedom, he'd strike out. "If I couldn't use the movie rap that we're in the business, I can assure you that I'd get nowhere, without taking my wallet out." He mentions watching newly single friends in their 50s try to pick up women. "Horrifying and hilarious at the same time. It's shocking how much they have lost off their fast ball."
In the case of "Hall Pass," Wilson and Sudeikis don't let their flabby physiques and Clinton-era musical knowledge prevent them from trying to score with chicks. While "Saturday Night Live" veteran Sudeikis may not have obvious lady-killer looks, the filmmakers needed to bring Owen Wilson's charm down a few notches -- otherwise, Bobby asks, "Where's the comedy?"
"We dorked him up a little," says Pete. Wilson is dressed in plaid short-sleeves and a "Born in the USA" T-shirt.
Despite taking place in Rhode Island and on the Cape, "Hall Pass" was shot in Georgia, partly due to tax breaks and the winter shooting schedule, with some second-unit footage shot in Providence. "People say why don't you just make it a Georgia story?" says Bobby. "Because we don't really know Georgia. We don't know how people talk."
Today, Bobby lives on the South Shore with his wife and kids and commutes to Los Angeles when needed. Peter lives in Ojai, California, about 90 minutes north of LA -- "only because my wife is from Santa Monica."
With "Hall Pass," the two have nine films under their belts in 17 years. But their direction hasn't progressed much technically since their debut, "Dumb and Dumber," when they didn't know a focus-puller from an F-stop.
"We still don't know," Bobby says.
So on the first day of shooting, the Farrellys still give the same speech. "We say, 'Look guys, we wrote the script, we understand the script, but there's a hell of a lot we don't understand. We're going to need your help,'" says Peter. Like with their writing collaboration, on the set, they divide the responsibilities. Peter works with the actors while his quieter sibling generally looks on from behind the monitor. Usually they agree if a performance is on target or if a gag is working, but if they disagree, they'll shoot it both ways and decide in the editing room.
They stress that their comedy rests not on the outrageous humor, but on likable characters. Nailing down protagonists the audience cares about is the hard part. Once the goofy guys are in place (in many a Farrelly comedy, the men are clueless dorks while the women are savvy and hot) the gags flow naturally.
But while the theme of "Hall Pass" may be slightly more earnest than in other Farrellymovies -- Peter insists that when the hijinks are over, it ultimately carries a "pro-marriage message" -- there's plenty of humor involving excrement, masturbation, and oral sex.
The Farrelly's next project should also appeal their core fan base: a movie adaptation of "The Three Stooges," now in pre-production and scheduled to begin shooting later this year. While names including Russell Crowe and Benicio Del Toro (as the anger-management-challenged Moe), Sean Penn (as wild-haired Larry), and Jim Carrey (hairless Curly) were once attached to the project, at the moment, the film is not cast.
"There's been more interest [from actors] in 'The Three Stooges' than any movie we've ever done," says Pete, "which is ironic since it's been the hardest movie to make because the studio thinks there's not enough interest in 'The Three Stooges.'" Confident there's still a Stooges audience, he called the studio's reticence a "head-scratcher."
Set in the present day, the Farrelly's "Stooges" will include three individual episodes, staged much like the vaudeville-rooted original, in wide shot. "At all points you want to see all of them," says Bobby. "Typically the camera will tell you where to look. Look at his face. Look at how he reacts. It's doin' the work for ya. Not with the Stooges. You pick and choose what you want to watch."
They'll shoot in color, but the palate will be black and white.
"They're not big bright color guys," Pete says of the Stooges.
"Unless they go golfing," Bobby says.
After the "Stooges," then what?
"We don't have a grand plan. You kind of do what's in your heart," says Peter. The Stooges were in their hearts for a decade. "And then something else will come up and I don't know what it is." He pauses. "I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days we did a horror movie. Or a thriller."
"We'll do something," Bobby says. "We do what we think is funny. We're not shy about it. We'll do it. We'll do it in a big way."
Their next big thing done in a big way will surely include their brand of boundary-pushing humor. Yet Peter says there's a deeper theme that remains constant. "We write about love. Loving women, or loving baseball, or loving bowling, or loving something."
Even loving Betty Rubble.
He thinks back to Fred running out on Wilma. "I'd stay with Betty. I know Barney had a better thing going."
Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the award-winning book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms," his travel memoir/pop culture investigation into fantasy and gaming subcultures that the Huffington Post calls “part personal odyssey, part medieval mid-life crisis, and part wide-ranging survey of all things freaky and geeky." National Public Radio described the book as "Lord of the Rings meets Jack Kerouac’s On the Road" and Wired.com proclaimed, “For anyone who has ever spent time within imaginary realms, the book will speak volumes.” Follow Ethan's adventures athttp://www.fantasyfreaksbook.com.