Is there a name for what the Farrelly brothers do? Poker-faced genre pastiche, Helen Keller-joke snottiness, absurdist sentimentality, whatever: Although There’s Something About Mary beautifully fused empathy and explosive gaggery, Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal, and now Stuck on You have veered closer to vintage Surrealist narratives, often forfeiting guffaws for freaky juxtapositions and pushing their madcap concepts beyond humor and into an odd sort of metaphoric resonance. Stuck on You is a comedy about conjoined twins, played by the preposterously unidentical Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, and saying it’s a one-joke scenario is inadequate; Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers may well be a funnier film. But there’s a daft sweetness and inclusiveness at work that sustains the Farrelly movie long after the notion of attached brothers boxing or quarterbacking or manning a burger joint’s kitchen fails to stir the chuckle meter.
Of course, conjoined twins (or Irene‘s schizophrenia, or Hal‘s misogyny and obesity-phobia) are not inherently funny. The Farrellys conscientiously mold socially loaded material into feel-good gadgets we want to take home, however horny, tactless, or vomit-flecked they may be. Zany as the movie is, laugh-getting is a secondary ambition. Old Warner Bros. cartoons were often unfunny—the Road Runner, Porky Pig, the skit-shorts surveying zoo animals or sports or books—but their invention and high spirits still dazzle. The Farrellys toil in the same fun house, and Stuck comes off mostly as a tale, or mock-tale, or mock-mock-tale, of optimism, triumph, and (gulp) attachment.
At the outset, Bob and Walt Tenor are integral figures in their Martha’s Vineyard village, and always have been—the flashbacks include moments of athletic glory (they make an unbeatable hockey goalie) and the brothers’ senior prom, where they were crowned twin kings. Native Rhode Islanders, the Farrellys adore warm, makeshift New England communities—as do the Tenors, until ladies’ man Walt (Kinnear) tries his hand at acting in Hollywood. Ensconced in a cheesy motel, the pair audition to disbelieving industry cretins and eventually meet Cher (Cher, as monstrous and synthetic as you’d imagine), who casts Walt (not Damon’s bashful Bob) on a TV show she’d like to see crash and burn. Naturally, it’s a hit, despite Bob’s face constantly intruding into the frame besides Walt’s.
The showbiz satire is low-boiling; Cher lambastes herself but still seems barely human, while Griffin Dunne, also as himself, registers sharply enough to initiate a mourning period for his abbreviated acting career. As an antiquated agent in a motorized wheelchair, Seymour Cassel scores easy birdies. But the central symbol of helpless adhesion holds. Every consideration of conjoinedness eventually leads to the charged idea of separation, and that’s when Stuck on You becomes very nearly poetic. In fact, the final eighth’s genuine hilarity derives its amperage from plain old brotherly love. (Old home movies are a sucker punch I take in the kidneys every time.) Damon and Kinnear are both pitch-perfect, inhabiting their ingenuous, codependent little universe together with the commitment of eight-year-old best friends. True to form, the Farrellys toss sophomoric spitballs at us, but nothing stems the rise of big-hearted generosity.