Dumb and Dumber
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber (Peter Farrelly, New Line Cinema, 1994)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 01 Dec 2020

Dumb and Dumber – "the"

Edit Line Pop culture
Blake Howard

Australian film critic and award-winning podcaster behind Michael Mann’s One Heat Minute

Even the most insignificant words prove Jim Carrey's mastery of comedy.

1994 is a critical year for comedy for a simple reason; it heralded the arrival of international comedic royalty Jim Carrey. Carrey, a Canadian/American physical comedian, doesn’t need words. Starting as an impressionist (with a particularly hilarious Clint Eastwood), Carrey used his time at the infamous LA Comedy Store to stretch physicality to new realms. He broke out on classic comedy series In Living Colour (1990) and in a single year burst onto our screens with an occult twist on The Nutty Professor, The Mask (1994); the utterly absurdist skewering of the detective genre Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994); and finally, collaboration with two of the biggest comedy directors of the era, The Farrelly Brothers, with Dumb and Dumber (1994). Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly would go onto direct Kingpin (1996) and There’s Something About Mary (1998).

Dumb and Dumber is a tale of two idiot friends – Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunn (Jeff Daniels) – that are unwittingly dragged into a kidnapping and extortion plot after picking up a briefcase that Mary (the stunning Lauren Holly) leaves at an airport. Lloyd and Harry decide to return the case to Mary in Aspin, and the impacts of their seismic stupidity leave a path of destruction. The genius of Dumb and Dumber, especially on revisiting the film, is that it’s so geared for Lloyd and Harry to succeed, and on every occasion, you feel like, even by chance, they’ll overcome their impulse for the dunce-like to get a leg up. Time after time, scenario after scenario, they refuse to learn any lessons, and that’s the delight. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David spoke about that “never learning” quality as a requirement for arguably the greatest sitcom ever made, Seinfeld. If the characters felt the emotional impact of their behaviour, there’s no way we’d keep tuning in every week – they’d cease being funny. Lloyd and Harry’s foolishness is boundless. By the end of Dumb and Dumber, it’s almost impossible to imagine that these guys will be able to have assemble the lives they had at the beginning.

The true testament to Carrey’s comedic chops is his infusion of even the smallest things, like this damned little determiner “the”, with charming absurdity. When Lloyd discovers Mary in the newspaper, and a way to track her down to give back the briefcase, he reads the paper aloud, with Lloyd coaching him through the pronunciation of the article. Before you know, "the” is even uttered Carrey’s face is gearing up to wrangle what you assume is going to be some academic phrase or ‘legalese’. When Carrey’s lips aggressive hurl out “the” through over-pronounced lips, he looks like a man being dubbed. Carrey makes you believe that Lloyd would have this tremendous amount of difficulty tackling the word. And Daniels’ Harry, doing his best impression of a Labrador, looks wholly puzzled by the magic of Lloyd absorbing the words on the page and speaking them to him. It’s one tiny moment that in the context of unrelenting laughs throughout remains memorable.

Blake Howard

This essay was written for Edit Line

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