Very rarely am I surprised by a film. I generally have a good idea of whether I’m going to like a picture even before I see it. I watch the trailer, look up it up on the IMDb, browse over the reviews and often catch interviews from the cast. All of these things have proven to be pretty dependable in predicting how I will respond. Sometimes, a movie receives glowing notices, but I end up hating it. That doesn’t surprise me as much. Far rarer is the flick that is saddled with a horrible trailer and receives bad reviews, that I find exceptional. The Three Stooges is just such a film.
Give the source material, I can’t imagine a movie made in 2012 about The Three Stooges being any better than this. For those who find those original shorts enchanting, this movie is as good as a film regarding that subject can be. The approach strikes just the right tone and mood. You can debate the merits of The Three Stooges. Granted their brand of humor isn’t for everyone. Their vaudeville act excelled in physical farce and extreme slapstick. It’s a form of comedy that seldom gets respect because it relies on pratfalls instead of witty banter. Slapstick has always been an essential part of the Farrelly brothers oeuvre. Behold their feature debut back in 1994 with Dumb and Dumber whose brand of idiocy was clearly inspired by The Three Stooges. The Farrelly brothers haven’t been too consistent as of late. One watch of 2007’s painfully unfunny The Heartbreak Kid and it’s hard to remember this was the same filmmaking duo responsible for the career defining highs of their late 90s work reaching a comedic apex with the classic There’s Something About Mary. There have been some bright spots, but since then their output has been inconsistent.
The Farrelly brothers were the perfect choice to direct this tribute. Our story begins when our fearless threesome are dumped as babies (with the same exact adult hairstyles no less) on the doorstep of the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. When Moe insists his newly adoptive parents take on Larry and Curly as well, they drop him back at the orphanage and instead adopt Teddy, a smaller and more adorable moppet . The Farrellys could have gone a few different ways with this. The script decides to transpose The Three Stooges exactly as they existed in the 1930s. Appearance and catch phrases intact, their behavior is identical in the modern day. Because their shtick is a bit anachronistic, it could have been a disaster. However this is not the case. Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos star as Larry, Curly, and Moe respectively. They are nothing less than a revelation as the titular trio. I mean these guys have an almost Zen like dedication to the craft. I dare say they are the superlative manifestation of those characters. The story is then divided in three acts and this was a wise decision. For one it harkens back to the vintage shorts they were originally known for. Second it gives the events a distinct focus. It breaks up the somewhat rambling narrative into easily digestible vignettes with a sense of purpose. The Farrellys pretty much do everything right in this homage.
Explaining why this made me laugh is like describing why Adagio for Strings makes me cry. It’s more of a mood that the Farrelly brothers set up and maintain. For one thing they keep the atmosphere surprisingly wholesome. (It’s rated PG, not PG-13 but PG) And why shouldn’t they? This is the Three Stooges after all. The trio that rose to fame in the 1930s, while admittedly idiotic, was never vulgar or offensive. They remain sweet, good natured guys so we can still support them even when they’re acting like idiots. Despite all the physical harm, their genuine love for each other and their fellow man, is evident. There’s an innocence that imbues every scene with heart. Yes there’s the requisite head bonks, eyeball gouges and hammers to the head complete with the cartoon noises that highlight each to amusing effect. But there’s also considerable humanity. I can’t justify why this made me chuckle, but I say without shame, I laughed a lot!
The Three Stooges is a near perfect re-creation of the phenomenon that makes our trio such a lasting comedic team. At times the storyline falters a little. There’s a development in the third act where Moe becomes the newest addition to the MTV reality series Jersey Shore. Linking the enduring comedy team of the 30s to fleeting pop culture references of today is a disservice. It’s the weakest part in an otherwise hilariously strong film. Yet even that subplot isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. At least “stars” of that curiosity have significant cameos becoming an integral part of the story, rather than just stunt casting for a cheap joke. I’ll admit the brilliance of The Three Stooges caught me off guard. I went in with expectations so low, I figured if I didn’t walk out in disgust, it would have been a success. Given the amount of side splitters that this film elicited, it has to be considered an unqualified success. It’s a symphony of one hilarious pratfall after another delivered with impeccable timing and generous heart. Should you go see this? Soitenly!