In an excellent recent conference paper, it was remarked how a particular “buddy” movie (specifically, Superbad) tends to portray an anxious masculinity, or anxious masculinities. This masculinity shows forth a homoerotic longing for the “buddy,” and many of the films that fit into this grouping (genre?) are in fact nothing less than romantic comedies masked by masculine friendship. Displaced desires and “multiple masculinities” result, with strong anxieties reinforcing the same gender stereotypes that produced them in the first place. It strikes one how the Farrelly brothers’ classic Dumb and Dumber fits into this categorization quite perfectly.
As is formulaic in many of these buddy movies, the two main characters begin in the story separated from one another, and cross-cutting gives the viewer simultaneous views of the two in their respective routines. The “routine” nature of these introductory sequences gives clear context as to the normative settings and activities of the characters. It also seems typical to illustrate in these opening scenes how “incomplete” the characters are when on their own. They either show a longing for one another – explicitly – or their failures as individuals indicates their inability to “go it alone.” The rest of the film (usually with the conventional conflict interlude 2/3 of the way in) keeps the two men/boys together in what promises to be ultimately a successful misadventure.
In Dumb and Dumber, the film opens with Harry (Jeff Daniels) driving the van for his dog grooming business (the “Shaggin’ Wagon”) on his way to a dog show for which he has the canines (“‘dogs’ for the layperson”) prepped. Lloyd (Jim Carrey) is also driving. The first shot in which the viewer sees Lloyd features him rolling down the window to his limo – pretending to be a passenger rather than the driver – and hitting on a woman standing on the sidewalk. His complete ineptitude to utter even one line to her that isn’t seasoned with idiocy demonstrates immediately his incompetence with women. At the same time, the fact that both men begin the film driving automobiles establishes that we are not just about to watch a “buddy” movie, but a road-trip movie – genres that tend to overlap with each other pretty consistently. Once Lloyd picks up Mary to take her to the airport, his speech once again reveals his failure to connect with a woman. As Harry arrives at his destination, the woman who meets him is not romantically attractive to him, but his failure to deliver the dogs in a presentable state confirms that each man in this duo fails to impress women and is, therefore, “castrated,” in the common psychoanalytic parlance.
They arrive home after another day of failures (“…fell off the jetway again.”) like a married couple (“How was your day?”), plopping into chairs neatly separated by an end table as if to keep one another at a comfortable, yet intimate distance. No sooner do they settle in but Lloyd brings up his encounter with “the most beautiful woman alive.” This is not the last time in the film when physical proximity and alone time between the two men is counteracted by a discussion about the sexual attractiveness of a woman. (Interestingly, the women they discuss vary, but the two men remain loyal to one another.)
A few scenes later, Harry agrees to Lloyd’s begging to go to Aspen (“California…beautiful.”) in order to return Mary’s “lost” briefcase to her. Harry’s agreement comes only after Lloyd’s emotional speech (surprisingly articulate for once): “I’m sick and tired of having to eek my way through life. I’m sick and tired of being a nobody. But most of all, I’m sick and tired of having nobody.” Lloyd’s statement, which would seem to be offensive to his friend and roommate Harry, end up serving a pragmatic purpose that empties them of their apparent discursive purpose and fills them with rhetorical intent: an excuse not only to embrace Harry by gaining his sympathy but to embark on a lengthy honeymoon-like trip, just the two of them. Harry’s deeply sympathetic reaction is to agree to the trip, extend his arms to Lloyd, and then engage in a lengthy mutual hug as Lloyd loudly wails into Harry’s bosom. Patting, squeezing, and caressing, Harry says, “Just let it out, have a good cry,” then after another moment, “Okay, that’s enough,” and pushes Lloyd away.
So often in this sort of film, every moment of male-on-male intimacy is abruptly cut short by one or both of the characters realizing the homoerotic (or as they would probably simply put it, “gay”) appearance of their words and/or actions. This insecurity highlights something, but it’s not necessarily clear as to what. It could be argued to be a “return of the repressed,” a homosexual desire that was supposed to be stifled early on in the child-rearing process that comes out every so often. Or, in a simpler, less Freudian way, it could simply be explained as a couple lonely guys who can’t get girls who commiserate together and end up getting a little cozier than the “typical” homophobic (literally) guy. As another option, maybe the comedic nature of the buddy/road-trip movie is directly related to these apparently homoerotic plot elements. Maybe it’s just a twist on a rom-com cliché, applying to two men what audiences are accustomed to expecting from a man and a woman. By replacing the woman with a man, comedy ensues (when viewed by a “typical,” “homophobic” audience). The possibility must also be admitted that these kinds of hermeneutical readings could simply be reading into textual elements and applying unfair interpretations.
These paragraphs would be incomplete if they didn’t point out the hot tub scene in the hotel room. It’s in this scene that Harry and Lloyd discuss “Freda Felcher,” a female acquaintance of theirs in high school who was the object of their mutual desire. This is the first of two times when the guys end up in love with the same woman. Why the same woman? Why not different women? Is it simply that only one woman crosses their path (note the singular) at a time, giving them each only one option from which to choose? Or is the film playing with the underlying notion that Harry and Lloyd are actually kind of in love with each other? By allowing only one interest at a time for the men to share, the men are always in the simple position of having to choose between their friendship or the woman they desire; they’re never able to have both (unless we introduce the taboo element that the characters themselves want to avoid – here, see Y Tú Mamá Tambien, where a very similar story takes place, a three-way ensues, and – fittingly – the film is a non-comedy).
Interestingly, in the “unrated” cut of Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd says to Harry in the tub, “Only one thing could make this moment better…if you had a nice set of knockers.” Harry replies, “That’s two things, Lloyd.” Lloyd goes on to say, “I’d show you what a real man could do…and you’d probably like it, you big homo.” Harry replies with, “Shutup, Lloyd,” and an uncomfortable look as Lloyd crosses the line that even their idiocy generally knows shouldn’t be crossed, uttering the previously unspoken reality of their relationship, or at least what it looks like.
The name of the woman they are both pursuing (theoretically, at least) – “Mary” – is the proverbial woman’s name that can hardly connote the idea of “woman” any stronger. It seems probable that she is a stand-in for the broader notion of “woman.” Do Harry and Lloyd desire “woman” or each other?, is the bigger question. That Mary, it turns out, is already married, is not only the simplest way to make sure that Lloyd and Harry can’t have her and must stick to each other, but also the most cliché. It’s perhaps just as cliché to point out how it’s cliché, but here we are, anyway: the commodification of the woman forces her into the role as to-be-desired, a role from which she cannot escape. The only way she can escape the desire(s) of Lloyd and Harry is by being desired by another, stronger man. Harry’s brief fantasy of shooting Mary’s husband multiple times shows that his “fantasy” is, truly, not homoerotic but heteroerotic. It’s in his fantasy life where he defeats the other male figure and gets his girl. In real life, he remains in a stable relationship with another man where he can only fantasize (along with his other man) about the distant and impossible idea of connection with a woman.
When Harry tricks Lloyd and is able to spend a day with Mary on the slopes, Harry ends up treating Mary like he treats Lloyd. Not only does Harry add the male organ to the snowman they built, committing a faux pas that Mary has to correct, using the carrot and stones to make eyes and a nose, but while playing in the snow Harry roughs up Mary like two guys affectionately beating on each other. Once Lloyd tricks Harry in return (turbo lax) and gets Mary back to the hotel to make his confession to her, what comes out of his mouth instead of his practiced soliloquy proclaiming his undying love for Mary? “I desperately want to make love to a schoolboy.” While trying to correct himself, he lets loose another slip: “I want you to tell me the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me…ending up together” Lloyd’s perpetual inability to identify himself and his own sexual preference with any kind of conventional accuracy drives home his frustrated/confused/repressed/anxious state of mind. Once Harry arrives at the hotel room, the threesome is handcuffed to the bed (with Mary in between, of course) by the bad guy. Interestingly, Harry and Lloyd make very little acknowledgment of Mary’s presence, though they are finally situated – the three of them – in bed together. Rather, the two men bicker like an old married couple, even with the obligatory sexual innuendo, each one demanding that the other kiss his ass (“Both cheeks! Both lips!…”)
The comical end scene, with Lloyd and Harry being offered to tour with the bikini girls on the “National Bikini Tour,” could not possibly cement all of these ideas any more. Both men are utterly oblivious to the ramifications of the offer presented to them. Finally, a free handout is before them embodying the ultimate heterosexual male fantasy: without having to do any of the hard work – in which they have so obviously failed in the preceding narrative – they can have exactly what they claimed to have wanted: women. Their refusal may indicate less an “oblivious” attitude than an apathetic one. Was it all for Mary that they went to Aspen, left everything they had, and endured all kinds of misery? Or was it “for love of the game,” as it were? Not for the hunted, but for the hunt itself. The same idea inheres when men go off fishing or hunting for a weekend “with the boys” and come back with no fish or game. As the aforementioned conference speaker noted, many of these “bromance” films allow a chord-cutting by the end: the two male characters are able to sever their ties to one another (to some degree) and walk away with their respective female interests. Not so in Dumb and Dumber. The overt rejection not just of cutting the chord but even of diving into their supposed non-gay fantasy implies a final acceptance of their relationship. Sure, they’re “dumb,” and therefore prone to miss the appearance of their greatest fantasies come to life. However, the film seems to encode many tropes of repressed homoeroticism under the guise of simple stupidity. Perhaps the truly ignorant thing would be to read all of this as just a couple morons trying to find a girl.