Miramax Pictures would lead you to believe with it’s advertising that this film is a new “There’s Something About Mary”. Peter and Bobby Farrelly co-directed “Mary” but only produced and co-wrote the script for “Outside Providence” with director Michæl Corrente (“Federal Hill”, “American Buffalo”). Peter Farrelly wrote the original, semi-autobiographical novel and, while perturbed with the misleading ad campaign, would like you to know the film is more in the vein of “Good Will Hunting”. In truth, the film lies somewhere in the middle. At least it’s not “The Dead Poet’s Society”.
It’s 1974, and 17-year-old stoner Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) has no ambitions to escape his blue-collar life in Pawtucket, Rhode Island or his drug-addled friends until he accidentally slams into a parked police car. One of the poker buddies of Tim’s rather irate father (Alec Baldwin) pulls some strings, and the boy is sent to upper class prep school in Connecticut for his senior year of high school. Wacky culture clash, painfully funny rites of passage, and the most marijuana humor this side of Cheech and Chong ensue.
Usually, a coming-of-age flick set in a past era ends up as a pointless wallow in nostalgia (“Detroit Rock City”) but as Corrente and Peter Farrelly actually were blue-collar teenagers in Rhode Island in 1974, this film would actually stand up without the K-Tel soundtrack. I’m not saying there’s no funny-but-offensive humor here; just don’t expect any special formula hair gel.
What really kicks this movie into overdrive is Alec Baldwin. He owns every scene he’s in, even when he doesn’t say anything. I’ve always thought Baldwin is one of the best American actors alive, but no one seems to know quite what to do with him. He’s always been leading-man handsome and charismatic, but he’s been most effective as villains or in character roles. There’s just too much going on behind his eyes. For most actors, there’s nothing going on behind their eyes, except to figure out where to put their hands. It took Jim Carrey TEN LONG YEARS from his first showcase sitcom (“The Duck Factory”, 1984) to his first hit movie (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, 1994) for Hollywood to really find a use for his talents. With films like “Outside Providence” there may be hope for Baldwin yet.