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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
This Friday, the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges will be released in theaters. A little known fact about me is that, in my younger years, I was a huge Stooges fan. The local syndicated station WPWR (“Power 50”) would show a two hour block of Stooges shorts every Sunday night which I would watch every week religiously. Even when it showed ones I saw before. I loved the Stooges, and even did an end-of-year social sciences research paper on Jerry “Curly” Howard in 8th Grade.
When I first heard this movie was being made and wasn’t a biography, I questioned the logic behind it. When I heard the Farrelly Brothers (the guys behind films such as Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber, and My, Myself, & Irene) were involved, I partially feared the Stooges would be transformed into pure gross-out, sexually charged humor. Not that I am against that sort of movie, but it isn’t something I would associate the Stooges with (at least in today’s modern context). If anything was a case of “We Better Not”, this would be it.
After seeing the trailer, however, my fears were largely alleviated. From all appearances, the film seems to be very much in line with the style and tone of the original Stooges’ shorts. Moe, Larry, & Curly seem well cast (especially Will Sasso as Curly). While there were some elements of borderline offensive humor which the Farrelly Brothers are known for, it largely seems as if they took the core elements of the Stooges and simply dropped them into today’s world. The lobster down the pants gag, the pratfalls, and Curly not understanding an iPhone are all in line with what one could expect from the Stooges. It really seems as if the Farrelly Brothers slavishly honored what worked with the comedy group.
This ultimately brings me to my point: who is this movie intended for? I would argue that the humor of the Three Stooges is primarily mischievous slapstick. Personally, I don’t really think that works today. Of course, it is good in small doses, but can a 90+ minute film really survive pratfall after pratfall without it wearing very thin on the audience? That’s partially why the original shorts worked so well: they were short. Granted, I said earlier I watched it two hours at a time when I was younger, but I was also a kid and that kind of humor plays better to younger audiences.
So, does that mean the movie is aimed at a younger demographic? It is possible. The film is rated “PG” (which is daring in today’s world), and a recent TV spot has Curly humorously saying “Rated PG, so you can bring your parents.” But would today’s kids really go for the Stooges? I know my friends and I got into them partially due to my dad watching them when he was a kid. The Stooges were part of his generation that he passed down. Would the Stooges be a part of today’s kids’ parents generation? Maybe some, but I honestly don’t know. I work with high school kids on a daily basis. I should ask them what they think of the Three Stooges.
It might also be possible that The Three Stooges is aimed strictly at the fans. Considering how loyal the Farrelly Brothers were to the source material and how inexpensive the film was to make ($30 million), it’s not hard to buy into the idea that the studio wasn’t expecting general audiences to rush to see it, and felt it would simply survive on the existing fanbase. But if that is the case, would the fanbase really buy into a “recasting”. I use quotes when I say recasting, because, this isn’t a recasting the way the recent Star Trek movie was recast. The Stooges originated as a vaudeville act. In many ways, they were comedians simply doing a routine that got lucky and broke into films. The characters were very loosely fictionalized versions of the actors. It would be as if they made a Penn & Teller movie but had other people play Penn & Teller. The upcoming film’s stooge actors are basically doing their impersonations of the original actors. The only way it would really work is if the new actors put their own stamp on the characters (which would have its own set of problems in this case).
Local Chicago TV icon Rich Koz (better known as Svengoolie and host of MeTV’s Stooge-a-palooza), made a very astute point in a blog post a few months back in that “we all know the original guys SO well, after watching them for decades, that the least little things wrong with this film will ring false.” I think that is very true. The Three Stooges are a unique brand of entertainment that is incredibly difficult to replicate in the way the upcoming movie is attempting.
As a Stooge fan myself, I am completely intrigued by the movie, and I want to see what will happen good or bad. I was pleasantly surprised by the trailer and feel that the Farrelly Brothers have created a loving tribute to the original three. However, I simply can’t shake the reservations that this film won’t find an audience. I know I will see it. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy it. In the end, perhaps that is really all that matters.
It also matters if Shemp will be appearing in any way, but I’m probably the only one who cares about that.