An Acquired Distaste
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Dr. Halberstoddter, my favorite professor and mentor back at Olde Ivy Film Criticism College, would roll over in his grave if he read my review of the Brothers Farrelly’s “The Three Stooges.” I liked it. Not in the Facebook sense. But in the way we really liked Sally Field when she won the Oscar. Yep, he’d roll over in his grave… if he were dead.
Make sense of that incongruous irreverence and you, too, might be on the way to enjoying the iconoclastic, so-called lowbrow absurdity that is “The Three Stooges.” And since one can’t help but feel as much apologist as critic when giving a positive review to a movie that so embraces the eye poke, I hope to explain it to both you and the good doc.
Point of disclosure: In a reverse on the usual pattern, as a child I disliked the title characters for all the socially correct reasons. Chiefly, they were violent, boorish and just plain stupid. But then for some reason or another, in mid-adulthood came a revelation. I would have preferred the secret of life. All the same, it was a rethinking on the Stooges.
Comically reaffirmed in this homage/reconstruction of things Stooges, they were poor man’s Pagliaccis…uncultured pearls devoted to a controversial form. Here, given a back story about growing up in an orphanage they now must rescue from foreclosure, like the challenge Jake and Elwood faced in “The Blues Brothers” (1980), they are made human.
Well, not too human. Because what the filmmakers are particularly successful at recreating is the insular world within a world these guys occupy. It’s an existence of no rules they completely abide by, even if it means Moe, the, uh, brains of the operation, can abuse Larry and Curly for absolutely no reason whatsoever and with only rare retribution.
Of course it makes no sense…that’s the point. It’s anarchical humor with an angry edge. And, unless you’re a bit mad yourself, you know that finding the Stooges funny is its own ridiculousness…a liberating frivolity you allow yourself in an otherwise rather serious world. You laugh at yourself for guffawing… you, who graduated from the Sorbonne.
Sliced into three segments to emulate the shorts that first brought the Stooges to showbiz notoriety, the first cut begins with the triad in babyhood, dropped on the doorstep of the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. Soon not deemed the bundles of joy the nuns hoped they’d be, a mutual aggravation society forms. To the sisters’ chagrin, they are never adopted.
But oh, they almost were, by a rich couple, who instead chose normal little Teddy, and from that springs the plot that leads the grown-up hell-raisers, now working as the orphanage handymen, to their adventure in the outside world. This will include being part of a murder plot and rubbing elbows with no less a personage than reality TV’s Snooki.
Laughing when Miss Polizzi is the recipient of a classic Stooge eye poke, you wonder, if Emily Post were alive, if this one instance of bad taste would earn her dispensation. Other contemporary cues, allusions and placements help ensconce the comic trio in the 21st Century. A creatively assembled supporting cast suffers well their mischievous nihilism.
Larry David is a stitch as Sister Mary-Mengele, the martinet nun. Jane Lynch plays the unfazed Mother Superior. And Sofia Vergara is the vamp who tries to dupe the boys into bumping off her spouse by dangling $833,000…ironically just what it’ll take to save the orphanage. But fret not. Despite all proof to the contrary, the Stooges are nobody’s fools.
In the finest comic tradition, they are heroes despite themselves…their ultimately noble deeds a seemingly unconscious byproduct of their harebrained bumbling. If you think about it, it’s a metaphoric microcosm for all of humanity’s wonderings and wanderings. That the Farrellys found three actors to actualize their vision is itself a lucky inspiration.
Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso as Moe, Larry and Curly, respectively, slip into their living oxymorons with seamless aplomb. The physical similarities, the likeness of voice and spot-on gesticulations go a long way to convince us that the spirit of this odd little niche in the realm of slapstick has indeed been resurrected.
Still, it bears noting that those who find these Vaudevillian rabble-rousers total anathema will doubtfully be converted. Likewise, were it not for the built-in paean, it probably wouldn’t be as funny. Thus, plaudits aside, and using logic “The Three Stooges” might themselves appreciate, I can’t possibly give a movie more than one popcorn per Stooge.
“The Three Stooges,” rated PG, is a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly and stars Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso. Running time: 92 minutes