‘How ‘Bout A Hug?’ (Dumb and Dumber Is A Damn Classic)

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Working long hours swinging hammers outdoors – assembling scaffolding and hauling materials, scraping elbows and climbing ladders – has oddly taught me a few things about being an artist. The strangest thing is a deeper appreciation for the books, comics, movies, podcasts, and newscasts that are a part of my day-to-day life. Music, above everything else, helps me push through the sweat and bruised skin, the ache in my back and knees when quitting time is still hours away. The other thing I’ve noticed is that it’s incredibly hard to sit down and work on my own personal projects when I get home at the end of the day. It’s hard to ignore the siren’s call of the couch and the television, hard to shake the dust from my shirt and put some effort into my personal passions.

Maybe some of you’ll get this one (but maybe not): when I sit down to start working on something, I like to put on an album I’ve heard a million times, or a movie I know inside and out. I like something in the background that I can ignore. The familiar sounds dampen outside distractions, help me focus on the details of whatever I’m tinkering with. I’ve heard that people with tinnitus find comfort in background noises that drown-out the ringing in their ears; it’s like that.

Well, I was on a road trip with my family – my parents and my sister – when I was twelve years old. My sister had a softball tournament in Omaha and, I remember distinctly, we stayed at the La Quinta. It was a weekend of soft-drinks, nachos, popcorn, and the clank of aluminum bats against underhand pitches. Thankfully I was old enough to be trusted alone in the hotel room and only had to endure a few hours at the baseball diamond. Junk food and cable television were just fine by me. Bored to tears by the whole situation – a twelve-year-old, marooned in Omaha for his sister’s softball league? – I was lucky enough to find ‘Dumb and Dumber’ on the television. It was love at first sight.

When the local video store in Lenexa, Kansas, Flicks and Discs, had ‘previously-viewed’ movies on sale, I was there to scrape them up. I maintained a reasonably healthy addiction to VHS throughout my middle- and high-school years. And let me tell you, ‘Dumb and Dumber’ was quickly one of the most watched tapes in my collection. I should be embarrassed how effortlessly I can recite lines from the film, but I’m not. I’m mesmerized by how this film just doesn’t seem to grow old (at least not to me).

But I’m rambling.

I was tired after a long day at work a few days ago. My body hurt. I found myself sifting through half-finished little projects and I was clicking through distractions on the internet – YouTube ‘this’ and Facebook ‘that.’ I was awake enough to seek out some mindless entertainment, but too exhausted to push anything creative out. I put ‘Dumb and Dumber’ on not even sure if I wanted to watch it. While the movie was playing, I found an old file on my computer – a half-completed illustration that I’d lost interest in years ago. Not caring too much, I started working on it. I was too tired to overthink anything; that was just right, for that moment, for me. Not working on anything grand, not feeling compelled to make something perfect, I was able to just draw, color, shade, and mess around in digital finger-paint.

So here’s a totally unimportant illustration of one of my favorite, ‘I don’t care if you don’t like it’ movies. And hell, even if you don’t like it…how ’bout a hug?

Cheers, guys,


Dumb And Dumber – Don’t Fall Off The Jetway Again

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It’s unfortunate when we have to forgive a franchise it’s latter-day sins, but it happens. Sometimes we stand on the shoulders of giants, and sometimes we fall off those shoulders. “Dumb & Dumber” was one of the unique films that was tremendously effective in its comedy specifically because it didn’t know it would be so great. It was earnest in its approach but knew how to take risks. It respected its audience and it never pretended to be anything other than what it was: a story of two dimwits on a road-trip. It’s a “buddy comedy” through-and-through. Even though the sequel appears to have been a nostalgic cash-grab, that alone cannot unseat the genuine brilliance of the 1994 classic.

The real train-wreck is a film that aspires to dramatic greatness when, at best, it’s a soap opera. We’ve all watched a comedy that over-clocked the same joke, much to our boredom and disappointment. We’ve seen humor recycled ad infinitum and we’ve seen movies that desperately hope a successful punchline from one feature will lead to success in another, a laziness and hubris of film-making that plagues the Hollywood circuit to this day. One of the reasons the new “Ghostbusters” trailer has caught so much negative criticism is because of this. The “that’s gonna leave a mark” gag stretches back as far as Jack Benny and Peter Sellers; it has been uttered by John Candy in “Spaceballs,” Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy,” and Michael Richards (Kramer) in multiple episodes of “Seinfeld,” and this is naming only a very select few.

In the end, audiences recognize when a film is out of its depth, trying too hard for an Oscar, or taking its audience for granted. “Dumb and Dumber” never did this. The characters were honest and three-dimensional, with their own histories and aspirations and shortcomings. A quick glance might reveal a flimsy animated cartoon cell, but an honest viewing of the whole movie shows us characters of agency, two outsiders fumbling about in a world they don’t (and because of their intellectual limitations, can’t) understand.

The Harry and Lloyd characters of “Dumb and Dumber” fulfill the “fish out of water” trope on two important levels. On the first level, they’re too dumb to function in society in any meaningful capacity. They struggle to hold down simple jobs, can’t pay their bills on time, are gullible enough to be swindled by a disabled elderly woman on a motorized cart. On the second level is where we, the audience, can actually meet them halfway and begin to relate to them rather than just laughing at them. On the second level, after finding a suitcase full of money, the duo winds up attempting to blend-in with high-society, a subterfuge that clearly doesn’t work but motivates us to think about how wealth is expressed in our society. It’s never the nugget ring or the gaudy fringed cowboy boots, no matter how expensive, that ever expresses refinement. It’s always something more subtle – the brand of watch, the fold of the pocket square, the part of the hair.

The premise of “Dumb and Dumber” is absurd, yes, but the characters are deployed with such gleeful honesty that it’s difficult not to want to see them succeed. That the film is goofy and recognizes that it’s goofy is what makes it successful. So strap into the Shaggin’ Wagon, stock up on your Binaka, and please, be sure not to fall off the jet-way again.

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A Look Back At “Dumb And Dumber”

Seabass postI loved “Dumb & Dumber.” Absolutely loved it. I saw it at the perfect time in my life to truly appreciate its magnificent stupidity while also getting a hint that there was a thoughtful craft behind the crude humor, a quiet genius necessary for this kind of movie to work. That’s right, the perfect time in my life: adolescence.

Two years ago, after finishing the first season of “The Newsroom,” I was pleased to see a picture of Jeff Daniels dressed as his “Dumb & Dumber” character, Harry Dunne, on my newsfeed. Talk about timing, right? As it turns out, the actor went immediately from wrapping the most recent season of his amazingly well-performed – and somewhat serious – HBO drama to once again act the fool with compatriot James Carrey. Twenty years later.

I could have guessed, even before the teaser trailer was released, that this was going to be a throw-away nostalgia grab-bag, a “hey, let’s cash a check” kind of movie. Comedy sequels have this awful habit of ham-fistedly repackaging the same jokes from their franchise, recycling winning punch-lines and tropes. It is a stupid trick that rarely, if ever, works. This usually doesn’t prevent one or two sequels from dribbling out of successful film properties. Quite frankly, after twenty years of lying dormant, I’m surprised this one even got made.

I enjoyed seeing the characters again, and I dusted off my old VHS copy of the original “Dumb & Dumber,” a hunk of plastic I bought previously viewed from a supermarket in Kansas. If you put a gun to my head, I wouldn’t be able to tell you a single thing about “Dumb and Dumber To.” It was just that forgettable. I laughed a few times, I think, but nothing really stands out. One might suppose that being forgettably bland is a notch above being memorably awful. And hey, I had an excuse to watch the original one more time, and that was enough to put a smile on my face.

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