What happens when the director of Dumb and Dumber opens up to a Jesuit?

Bobby Farrelly, Jeff Daniels, Peter Farrelly, and Jim Carrey / Universal Pictures

I’m wondering if sophomoric humor appeals to me because I never really acted like a sophomore in high school. Let’s face it; I was the guy volunteering to help Sister clean the chapel, not the guy pulling detention-worthy pranks. Maybe it’s just a case of making up for lost time, but a few decades after sophomore year I'm the guy who cracks up whenever he watches There’s Something About Mary.

That confession might raise a few eyebrows. (It’s a decreasing number, but there are still people who expect priests’ TV and film tastes to consist of Touched by an Angel binge marathons and yearly screenings of Jesus of Nazareth). Some of my friends might say, “Well, those kind of movies are so over the top, off-color, and lack challenging plots, Eddie. You should really watch that dark, realistic dramedy that has all the Oscar buzz instead.” Sure, I like those movies, too, but is it so bad to occasionally watch something not so concerned with realism and darkness? When I met Peter Farrelly (who, with his brother Bobby, directed Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal, and others), I got the sense that his main priority is to make people laugh; not craft a plot that intellectuals can dissect at dinner parties. Instead, he seems more concerned with giving people an hour and a half to forget about anxiety, self-obsession, self-loathing, or any of those other pesky self-defeating thought processes we carry.

At Loyola Productions, we were intrigued by the idea of a Jesuit having an honest conversation with someone who seems, at first glance, like an opposite. So what better way to test it out than pair Fr. Radmar Jao, S.J.[1] with the guy who basically re-defined R-Rated comedy with jokes I can’t print in NCR? Honestly, I didn’t know how this would go. But Radmar wisely took his approach from the Spiritual Exercises -- interviewing Peter as “one friend speaks to another,” not as a priest speaking to (or at) a lapsed-Catholic. Instead, he did a lot of listening, and what resulted were some very honest moments, and some unexpected commonalities between the two.

When I watch this video, I'm struck by Peter’s ability to dive deep into spiritual issues (and in many ways work parts of them out in front of us) without sounding pretentious, pious, or holier than thou. I'm surprised that his spirituality has so many connections to the Ignatian spirituality that guides the religious life Radmar and I practice. We might have different ways of naming things, but the shared experiences are clear. Some examples: Peter speaks a lot about quieting the cluttered mind to make good decisions, something we Jesuits might call discerning the spirits. His description of going into temporary darkness filled with nihilistic thoughts we’d call desolation (just as we might call his recognition of God and God’s goodness in his life as consolation). His insistence of not owning a cell phone so he can be more present and see more clearly, isn’t unlike Ignatius’s call to do all we can to see the world as it truly is, mess and all, and find God in all things. Finally, Peter switches up his routine by taking long solo road trips whenever he feels lost/stressed/depressed/anxious. His says it tough for him to do it at first, but after a couple of days he recognizes “the smart, wise voice” and gets a powerful sense of clarity. This could be described as agere contra and retreating into silence to better hear God’s voice.

At the risk of getting theological, I’ll stop, but you’ll probably notice a few other commonalities when you watch. It's made me wonder about how many situations we encounter where we assume we have nothing in common with a person simply because they might not use the same language to describe things. Only when we dig deeper, go beyond initial expectations and assumptions, and listen, can we find unexpected shared values. Those assumptions are dangerous things. After all, most would assume a director wouldn't get vulnerable about his faith in God on camera (something somewhat frowned upon in these parts … unless, of course, you’re making faith-based content, but that's a whole other story).

Don’t miss this interview. They say our attention spans are decreasing at a rapid rate, but try to prove statistics wrong and watch this one through. It will leave you with a new take on the guy who likes to dress Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, put unspeakable things in Cameron Diaz’s hair, and reveal Jeff Daniels’ backside all so people like me might laugh. When Dumb and Dumber To opens today, I’m sure Peter will be thinking about the bottom line, hoping the movie grosses well (who wouldn’t?). But I’m also convinced what matters more to him is if the audiences get joy from all the silliness. In the end, that’s the thing that gives him real purpose, not the numbers.




[1] Radmar is one of my housemates in my Jesuit community. He’s an actor by training and also co-hosts Ask Iggy over at the Jesuit Post

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