Even though I live in Los Angeles, I’ve never been an actor, a writer, a director, a writer-director, a grip, a cameraman, or worked in the film industry in any capacity whatsoever. However, when I was living in Johannesburg I did produce a play that I had written. I was pretty overwhelmed by the plethora of tasks it took to actually bring the play to the stage, and by the end of the process I had cast off ten pounds of muscle that had served me so well in Mozambique (more on that some other time), my director and I were barely speaking to each other, and I swore up and down that I never wanted to do anything like it ever again.
Making movies can be a stressful and traumatic process. In a town that lives by the motto “You’re only as good as your last film,” the reputations of everyone involved are in jeopardy each and every time a movie is made; millions upon millions of studio dollars are on the line. Some of the largest fish in the Hollywood pond have mastered the art of “failing up,” but for most others, to have your name attached to a catastrophe of a film can ruin your career and your financial future.
For this reason, movie sets have always been hotbeds of drama and turmoil, and can often take a tremendous toll on everyone involved, all the way down to the production assistants*. The filming of Apocalypse Now (1979) was so grueling that its director, Francis Ford Coppola, declared his intention to commit suicide three separate times and suffered a nervous breakdown. David O. Russell was so abusive toward his crew and extras during the filming of Three Kings (1999) that he ended up getting into a physical fight with his leading man, George Clooney.
Director commentaries on DVDs tell us again and again that making movies is a difficult and exhausting process, and while the finished product usually inspires quite a bit of pride, it’s much harder for performers and crew members to experience that joy while the process is under way. That’s what makes the closing-credits sequence from the Farrelly brothers’ 1998 triumph, There’s Something About Mary, so remarkable.
The Film: There’s Something About Mary
The Song: “Build Me Up Buttercup”
The Artist: The Foundations
It’s unlikely that anyone foresaw how much of a blockbuster Mary would turn out to be. Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s previous effort, Kingpin (1996), had pulled in a meager domestic total of $25 million, a steep decline from the $127 million gross of their first film, Dumb and Dumber (1994). By contrast, Mary made $176 million in the United States and close to $200 million overseas, returning a nice profit on a $23 million budget.
It’s impossible to overlook the genuine sense of joy we see in the clips played over the closing credits. Despite the whimsical nature of the performances, it’s obvious that this was something the Farrelly brothers had planned from the first day of filming. Most of the major set pieces and costumes are represented, and Mary‘s minor characters get a bit more face time in front of the camera. My guess is that once every scene was shot to satisfaction, the directors passed around a tray full of Jell-O shots, played “Build Me Up Buttercup” a few times, and hosted a small-scale wrap party.
One of the strangely bittersweet things about Mary is that it represents a high point in the careers of many of the people who were involved: Ben Stiller has never been funnier. Cameron Diaz has never been more likable. And who can deny that it was Brett Favre’s finest moment as an actor? The Farrelly brothers crafted a truly hilarious picture that relied heavily on slapstick and dumb jokes and managed to find new ways to gross us out without diving into the scatological cesspool.
Since then, the Farrellys’ comedies have gotten weaker and weaker: Me, Myself & Irene (2000), Shallow Hal (2001), etc. Stiller has worn out his welcome as the neurotic hero of romantic comedies like Meet the Parents (2000), Along Came Polly (2004), and The Heartbreak Kid (2007), his recent reunion with the Farrellys. Diaz has aged gracelessly and is in more demand these days for her voice work in the Shrek films than as a love interest. And the last time Favre (who announced today that he is completely and totally retiring and is absolutely not coming back) won a Super Bowl was 1997.
But pretty much everything about Mary is good, dumb fun, and the video for “Build Me Up Buttercup” is no exception.
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* For an interesting take on this subject, watch Swimming With Sharks (1994), starring Kevin Spacey.
** In my research (yes, I look stuff up) I discovered that one of the first appearances of Richard Tyson, who plays Detective Krevoy and reminds me a whole lot of the evil dojo master in The Karate Kid, was in Three O’Clock High (1987), which also starred Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Healy’s friend Sully.