Outside Providence (1999)
Directed by Michael Corrente
Written by Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Michael Corrente
Cast: Shawn Hatosy, Alec Baldwin, Amy Smart, Jack Ferver, Jon Abrahams, Gabriel Mann, Jonathan Brandis, George Wendt.
1999 90 minutes
Rated: (for profanity, drug use, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 4, 1999.
"The outrageous new comedy from the guys who brought you 'There's Something About Mary,'" reads the tagline on the poster for "Outside Providence." Maybe in a fantasy world, but realistically speaking, nothing could possibly be further from the truth. True, Peter and Bobby Farrelly wrote "Outside Providence," but while "Mary" really was a raucous, un-PC comedic excursion, their latest scripting job is a sweet and earnest coming-of-age story that, yes, does have its fair share of big laughs sprinkled throughout. You won't, however, ever see a peculiar substance in the leading lady's hair here.
Depicting one year in the life of 17-year-old Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), "Outside Providence" is supposedly semi-autobiographical of the Farrelly Brothers' own lives growing up, and I'd believe it, as the film is made up more out of individual moments, rather than one that follows a clear-cut plot from Point A to Point B. Tim lives in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, directly outside of Providence, and in the summer of 1974, he spends his days and nights hanging out with his stoner friends getting high. His gruff, blue-collar father (Alec Baldwin) has an embarrassing nickname for him--"Dildo"--and he has a close relationship with his wheelchair-bound younger brother. One night while driving around with his buddies, the overwhelming marijuana smoke in the car causes Tim to wreck into a parked police car, and he is promptly sent off to stay at the prestigious Cornwall Academy for his senior year of high school. Immediately realizing that he is far behind the rest of the students in his highly competitive classes, and instantly disliked by the unfair headmaster of the school, Tim's prospects suddenly brighten when he meets fellow student Jane (Amy Smart), apparently the only girl in the whole Academy (or so it seems). From there on, they start a relatively innocent and kind-hearted romance, the type that only can be found in a person's young adult years, before their views of the world become jaded. Meanwhile, Tim is struggling to piece together why his mother could have possibly committed suicide several years before, as well as his uneasy relationship with his father.
The two keys to the success of "Outside Providence" is in its on-target period flavor of the '70s, complete with many classic rock songs (The Who's timeless "Won't Get Fooled Again," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama") that perfectly walk hand-in-hand with the story, as well as in its sharp, winning performances from the whole cast. In the central role, Shawn Hatosy is a truly talented young actor (who, by the way, is from my hometown of Frederick, MD) with an almost blindingly-bright future ahead of him (tellingly, his next two movies also consist of the likes of Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, Sharon Stone, and Nick Nolte). Like Jason Biggs ("American Pie"), Hatosy has a sort of everybody look to him that only helps the viewer to more closely identify with him, and his charactor of Dunph, as his friends call him, is a likable and engaging protagonist.
In a stunning change-of-pace, Alec Baldwin is a standout (and possible Oscar nominee) as Old Man Dunphy, Tim's father, who is sometimes hard on his son, but only because he cares for him and wants him to make something out of his life. A stern figure at first, Baldwin especially shines late in the picture, particularly in a scene where he teaches Tim how to put on a tie, and another set outside of a bar when Tim questions him about why his mother killed herself.
Amy Smart, the highlight of last spring's otherwise mediocre "Varsity Blues," brings a surprising warmth and intelligence to her role of Jane, a bright girl who knows how to have a good time, but also takes pride in challenging herself with her school work, and encourages Tim to do the same. Smart exudes an overwhelming amount of beauty, dignity, and empathy, and it's doubtful any other young actress could have done a superior job.
While the screenplay is consistently well-written, gently mixing comedy and bittersweet drama together, it is often a given that some major editing was done before the film's release, judging from various subplots that are brought up and never really resolved. Two minor stories that come to mind is in the questionable sexual orientation of one of Old Man Dunphy's poker buddies (George Wendt, in a touching performance), and another concerning Tim's geeky roommate at Cornwall (Jack Ferver) who is thinking about calling up his ex-girlfriend to work out their problems. Since nothing more comes of these sideway plotlines, perhaps it would have been wise to cut them out completely, and maybe add a few more scenes with Tim and Jane.
Otherwise, "Outside Providence" is a more-than-amiable way to spend ninety minutes in a movie theater, and if you've already seen "The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair Witch Project," this is your best bet. Entertaining and charming, the film is one of the better, more accurate, "coming-of-age" films to be released in awhile, and as directed by Michael Corrente, gets far more things exactly right than wrong.
©1999 by Dustin Putman