Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s 1994 directorial debut, Dumb And Dumber, helped make Jim Carrey a superstar and established the film’s writer-directors as kings of scatological comedies. The brothers’ 1996 follow-up, Kingpin, wasn’t as successful commercially, but has subsequently developed a dedicated cult following. In 1998, the brothers scored their biggest success to date with There’s Something About Mary, a raucous physical comedy whose famous setpieces—the most infamous involving an errant gob of semen—obscured its soft, squishy center.
Since then, the Farrelly brothers have continued to both produce outside projects and write and direct films like the unexpectedly touching buddy Stuck On You, the Nick Hornby adaptation Fever Pitch, Me, Myself & Irene, which re-teamed them with Carrey, Shallow Hal, and The Heartbreak Kid, a remake of the classic Elaine May comedy. The brothers’ most recent project is Hall Pass, a characteristically raunchy and sweet romantic comedy about a pair of bored middle-aged husbands (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) whose wives give them a “hall pass” to forget their marriage vows and do whatever they’d like for a week. The screenplay originated with Pete Jones, a young filmmaker best known for winning the first season of Project Greenlight, a victory that climaxed with him directing Stolen Summer. After the Farrellys came on board as directors, Jones worked with them on the screenplay. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Peter Farrelly and Jones about infidelity, balancing slapstick and sentimentality, and why Farrelly does not care for Freddy Got Fingered.
The A.V. Club: How did the idea for Hall Pass come about?
Pete Jones: I was looking to write a commercial comedy and I just was fascinated, obsessed with the subject of monogamy and thought, “There’s a lot of guys in their mid-30s, married a few years, and every time I go out with my buddies, the subject always comes around to it.” And I thought, “Is there a way to tackle this in a funny way that everyone can relate to?” And that’s when I sat down to write Hall Pass.
AVC: Are you saying the subject of infidelity always came up, or the urge?
PJ: Not exactly infidelity, though some of the guys then delved into infidelity. I personally love my wife, and all that bullshit corny stuff, it’s true. But the idea of maybe getting a little action that’s okay, that’s all right, that she’s fine with. I thought “Wow that’s a fantasy!”
Peter Farrelly: My thing is that—I’m married too, happily married—but if God came to me and said, “Pete, you’ve got the best wife on the planet, for you. The best. There’s no better. Still like to check out number two?” That’s it.
PJ: That was it for me too. The idea of, “Oh God! I’d love to stay married, and no problems. But maybe get a little action once a year.”
AVC: It seems like that’s opening Pandora’s box.
PF: We try to be true to the concept here. I’ll tell you something. Pete wrote the first draft and we laughed, we thought it was hysterical. We loved it. We rewrote it with him and with a guy named Kevin Barnett. I gave it to my wife and she said, “I fucking hate this, I hate everybody in this. I can’t stand it.” I was like, “What? Really?”
AVC: That’s the response you want!
PF: Yeah. I said, “Why?” She said because at that time, the guys got a hall pass and the women sat at home and they bit their fingernails wondering, “What do you think they’re doing now? Do you think they’re with girls now? What do you think’s happening now?” She goes, “Are you kidding me? If you get a hall pass, I get a hall pass! And you’re gonna be the one biting your fingernails. I promise you.” And we realized it was true, that we were missing something huge.
So when we wrote this, we were trying to be fair to the concept, and when we were writing it honestly, I was thinking, “Anything could happen at the end.” The old saying, “If you bring a gun on stage, it must go off.” Well if you have this concept, someone’s got to get laid, and then the question is, “Who gets laid, how, and how does it work out?” And the way we wrote it honestly is maybe both couples get divorced at the end. We weren’t writing it intentionally looking for a happy ending. We wanted a satisfying ending but we wanted a true ending and we were open to anything happening, and at the end of the day we realized, “You know what? I think it can work out for both of them where they can stay together and be happy.”
AVC: The film has these very separate realms, and it seems the guys get the lion’s share of the story. Were you worried that the women would be an afterthought if you didn’t change the script that way?
PF: We thought it wouldn’t be fair. I don’t think as many women would give their husbands hall passes without taking one themselves. In fact, if you are giving your husband a hall pass, it’s implied that you have one. It wouldn’t be true to the concept if you didn’t realize that it’s way scarier on the woman’s side. Women could go out and in five minutes be in the back of a car. If I was not allowed to mention that I was in the film industry, I could go six months without getting a kiss.
PJ: The implied part of it was big on the writing side, though, because we’re on the belief that a guy would absolutely take a hall pass, but if you told the guy that you could have a hall pass, but your wife could get one also, most men would say, “No way.” So the idea that the women end up having a hall pass assumed was an important part of the writing for us, because it opened it up completely so it’s not just completely guy-centric “Lets go have fun.”
AVC: You have this wish-fulfillment premise and you take it different directions.
PF: We actually had an ending at one time, and this is written in the script, that at the very end of movie, after all is said and done, after Owen comes home and he and his wife kiss, that we were gonna go outside the house and you would see in the grass, out on the beach, is the guy, the coach, and he’s standing there with his clothes, and he’s naked, and he’s running away—like he was banging her.
PJ: We had him sliding off the roof at one point. We were laughing pretty hard at the idea.
PF: We love the idea that it is a guy concept but the women are the ones who get away with murder.
AVC: They have an opportunity to be 14 -year-old boys again, but they’re very bad at being 14-year-old boys. And then Christina Applegate’s character is actually much better at it.
PF: And she of course was the last of the four to go on board. She was the one—“No way, no hall pass, not happening.” And of course she took the most advantage of it, which is generally how it goes. I find that people who protest too much about these types of things are the ones who break easily. We used to play this game with my friends—“How much would you pay to be with any woman in the world for one weekend. You know up front no disease, no pregnancy, you’ll never get caught, just clear sailing, you know you’ll get away with it. Any woman you want for a whole weekend. What’s your price?” And my friends from Rhode Island say, “I’ll pay 1,500 bucks for that.” Not big spenders. “So the max you would pay is 1,500.” They said, “Yeah I couldn’t go above that.” I said, “So let’s do it. You got it. Just give me one extra dollar. $1,501. Would you do that?” They say, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” I say, “So what’s your fucking limit man! C’mon! What’s the number you don’t go past?” And there’s no answer. You’ll always add an extra buck.
So I’m doing that one time, I’m at this Super Bowl party with millions of girls there. It was at the Super Bowl. It’s a Playboy party, and I’m standing there next to this other married guy and we’re just leaning against the wall having beers looking at hundreds of gorgeous women and I do that to him. And he looks at me and says, “I wouldn’t pay one goddamn penny because I’d know.” And I’m looking at him like, “Right. Good answer man.” I’m thinking, “That guy will cheat on his wife. He’s full of shit. He can’t even fool around talking about it, that’s a problem.”
AVC: It seems like tone is a very tricky thing with this, because on the one hand, you want to be funny, but you also want to stay true to the emotions. When you have that conflict between going for a big laugh and having an emotionally satisfying moment, where are your instincts generally?
PF: I’ll say this—we start with the heart and soul first, that’s where we start writing. When we’re writing, we’ll spend a lot of time creating a character that is so likeable that we can hang our jokes on and get away with murder. It’s a balance. Sometimes you go with the joke, sometimes you go with the heart. Overall the heart has to win. To end it with the guy running away on the beach is funny, but it also negates a lot of what we’ve accomplished. On the other hand, I like the idea of letting our characters go for it, like Fred does—Jason Sudeikis—when he’s lying to women to get what he wants. So you could say, “Well that’s hurting his character. We’re not gonna like him after that.” But that’s okay, we’ll win you back. It’s a balance.
AVC: You talked about the characters being loathsome, according to your wife. To what extent does casting an Owen Wilson go toward making a character like that likeable?
PF: A long way. Owen is one of the most likeable guys on the planet. He just naturally is likeable. No matter what he says. Even when he’s in the Focker movies, he’s a prick but you like him. He can’t make you hate him.
PJ: I couldn’t imagine him being a villain.
AVC: It’s funny, because the last thing I saw him in was How Do You Know, where he’s playing an antithetical character, a guy who can’t stop getting laid, and again, there’s a likeability.
PF: How was that? I didn’t see it.
AVC: It was not good.
PJ: Not just jumping on Owen’s bandwagon, but I really enjoyed him in that movie, where he’s the narcissistic relief pitcher that just isn’t all that bright, and everything’s about him. I thought he was really good, but the movie disappointed me.
PF: We’ve worked with a lot of fun people and we’ve always had a good time making our movies, that’s the truth. But he was the most easygoing actor I’ve ever worked with. The only one who would be comparable would be Cameron Diaz. So cool.
AVC: Have you seen the movie Freddy Got Fingered?
PF: Only the first 20 minutes.
AVC: What did you think of it?
PF: I went to see that movie when it came out because when I read the reviews, we were mentioned—the Farrelly brothers—in every review and I didn’t like it. I went out and saw it and saw it for 20 minutes and was very disturbed and I walked out. I was disturbed because we don’t like being called the “gross-out guys,” because it’s way more complicated than that. In Something About Mary, with the hair gel and all that, you can call it gross-out or you can call it what it is, which is us taking an hour for a guy to find the girl of his dreams from high school. Seventeen years later, he finally gets a date with her and he answers the door with a load on his ear. It’s funny. It’s not just gross. That movie I thought was just gross just to be gross. Nothing against Green, and actually he seems like a fine guy. I know people who worked on that movie and they said he was a good guy, but I didn’t like it.
AVC: Jason Sudeikis has never had a role this big in this big a movie. Was it tough to get the studio to approve him?
PF: No. Scheduling-wise a bit, because of SNL. But we didn’t know what we were getting with him. I knew he was funny, but I had no idea. I think he’s one of the all-time funny guys. I think he’s the new Jack Lemmon. He feels anachronistic, like he’s from a different era. He’s so quick-witted, we were blown away by him. The likeability factor with him was so high, those two hit it off so much that helped a lot in the movie. When you get two guys who really like each other it shows. You can’t fake that stuff. Those guys loved each other right out of the gate.