Pop quiz, hotshot. You only get one guess. You’ve got a movie called Outside Providence, so who do you think are the filmmakers responsible? Seriously, this isn’t hard, or should I say “haaaaad.” They don’t know how to pronounce their R’s in that part of the world. Time’s up! Of course, the brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly are the one’s sitting in the producer’s chairs. Since they were a bit too busy helming There’s Something About Mary, they turned the directing duties over to Michael Corrente for this 1999 adaptation of Peter’s autobiographical novel of the same name.
I have to think the boys at Miramax threw some dough behind this film because they saw it as something like Dazed and Confused goes to Prep School. The film centers on Tim Dunphy, played by Shawn Hatosy; a teenager in 1974 Pawtucket, affectionately called “Dildo” by his father (Alec Baldwin). One mistake too many ends up getting Tim sent off to Cornwall Academy, rather than spending his senior year with his stoner friends back home. Of course, Tim doesn’t exactly fit in with the other students, and instantly ends up on the hit list of his tyrannical dorm master, Mr. Funderbuck.
This is where I would normally expect all sorts of snobs vs slobs hijinks to ensue, but the film ends up remaining unexpectedly grounded. Unfortunately, I think this may be to the film’s detriment. I’m not trying to put the Farrelly brothers into a box here. Lord knows they’ve moved beyond explosive diarrhea and mysterious hair care products in other films. This outing certainly has hints of the brothers’ irreverent style, but the half-baked sentimentality of the proceedings is screaming for a few more pranks or fart jokes. The Mr. Funderbuck character is a truly loathsome authority figure, but we’re really only treated to one moment where he gets his comeuppance. It’s more than a little frustrating.
I think the goal was probably to focus a bit more on characters than hijinks, but most of the film’s characters feel pretty generic. I don’t feel like we ever really get that much of an opportunity to know our central character. Shawn Hatosy turns in a solid performance as Tim, but the character is underdeveloped to begin with. Likewise, his friends are your standard “insert typical stoner bud here” sort of characters. It is difficult to distinguish one from another, which becomes a serious problem when one of the film’s emotional beats depends on the audience having had some sort of connection with one of these characters. Tim’s classmates at Cornwall are also pretty flat. The one exception would be the awkward kid dubbed “Jizz,” played by Jack Ferver.
There is a certain sweetness, however, to the romantic thread between Tim and Amy Smart’s character, Jane. Perhaps it’s just the nature of this sort of romantic dynamic that you can’t help falling for it a bit. Uncultured kid from the rough side of town wins the heart of the prettiest, smartest girl at school; what’s not to like about that? Still, the development of their relationship all plays out in montage form, with no real insight into what she sees in him.
Now, the film is not without some enjoyable moments. We do have some legitimately funny sequences where Alec Baldwin and his buddies shoot the breeze while swilling beer and playing cards. They discuss everything from Watergate to whether or not Jim Nabors is gay. The dialogue in these moments is snappy, clever, and far superior to most of the rest of the film. This despite the fact that Baldwin himself is dishing out an awful performance. His delivery is cartoonish; better suited to an SNL skit than a feature film.
Though there are moments of enjoyment peppered throughout Outside Providence, it is a film that is far from exciting. I did enjoy the 70’s nostalgia, which you would never know was there based on the promotional images. The DVD box art features Alec Baldwin, Shawn Hatosy, and Amy Smart all dressed in distinctively 90’s garb. Nostalgia doesn’t always make for a satisfying story, though. When I was done watching the film, I imagined Alec Baldwin’s character and his buddies saying, “Yeah, so? That’s what they make movies about these days?” I get that it’s based on an autobiographical work, and there’s something to be said for being truthful, but this is a case where a bit more embellishment may have been in order.