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Outside Providence

Review by David Luty
Posted 10 September 1999

Outside Providence

Directed by Michael Corrente 

Starring Shawn Hatosy, 
Jon Abrahams, Tommy Bone, 
Jack Ferver, Adam Lavorgna, 
Jesse Leach, Gabriel Mann, 
Kristen Shorten, Amy Smart, 
Alex Toma, Timothy Crowe, 
George Wendt, and Alec Baldwin

Written by Peter Farrelly

A genial though typical coming-of-age movie, Outside Providence lacks the precise character touches that would allow the display of much aging. That may be because the movie was born from the minds of the infinitely juvenile Farrelly brothers, responsible for such filmed whoopee cushions as Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There's Something About Mary. Outside Providence, based on Peter Farrelly's semi-autobiographical novel, sits well outside this field, though at many times it seems eager to join the more randy crowd. There's a shot early on of a one-eyed, three-legged dog, and you can be sure that somewhere in the Farrelly mental landscape they were itching to have it dig up its fourth leg out of a pile of its own feces in the backyard.

But the brothers have practiced some welcome restraint here, and they've hired fellow Rhode Island filmmaker Nicholas Corrente to help them stay grounded. The guiding force behind the studio mishandled Federal Hill and the unjustly ignored adaptation of Mamet's American Buffalo, Corrente has an enjoyably light, unadorned touch, but he's often fighting the less sensitive sensibilities of his source material. Since the story is essentially about teenagers, however, the more prurient tendencies of the Farrelly's feel right at home, up to a certain point. Tim Dunphy (a solid Shawn Hatosy), known as Dunph to his friends and Dildo to his blue collar widower dad (Alec Baldwin), is a directionless hippie, minus the ideals, who spends a whole lot of his time in 1974 Pawtucket, Rhode Island smoking weed with his pals. His father, more out of weary impatience than interest in his son's well-being, sends the kid to a Connecticut boarding school for a year to keep him out of trouble. Dunph, being as good-hearted but misguided as he is, has little trouble finding trouble in Connecticut. But he also finds romance, with an upper class beauty named Jane (Amy Smart) from the neighboring girl's school, and a push towards responsibility.

That's pretty much the standard blueprint for a teen coming of age story, and Corrente does a nice job of injecting some measure of life into it. Using a predictable but undeniably evocative soundtrack of vintage 70's tunes and a measured pace that nicely captures the alternately overcast and vibrant New England autumn, Outside Providence remains enjoyably likable despite its shortcomings. Corrente is fighting an uphill battle with the Farrelly's thinly conceived characters and slapdash relationships, portraying Dunph's and Jane's budding love with a couple frisbee-throwing montages, and the older characters, most notably Alec Baldwin's ultra-gruff Old Man Dunph, within an uncomfortable limbo between caricature and sincerity. Supporting characters float in an out with little purpose, and plot threads arrive and retreat with a sometimes thudding awkwardness. Along with Corrente's unmannered direction, Hatosy does an admirable job of keeping a straight face throughout, even during the comic moments, and gives the movie as much human truth as he can squeeze out of the limited material. As admirable it is of the Farrelly's to attempt a minor sabbatical from their meal ticket of Grand Canyon-broad gag comedy for something more modest and emotionally honest, their script doesn't have the depth to support its more serious moments. Narrative modesty requires a more finely tuned eye for human behavior - if you're going to give your audience so little amount of ground traveled, you have to be able to dig deeper into the people taking the shorter journey. Outside Providence takes the sort of storytelling baby steps that necessitate, on the part of the storyteller, growing up.


Be sure to read Cynthia Fuch's interview.


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