I’ve never seen the problem people have with nostalgia. It’s a perfectly natural occurrence. The things you love in your child are things you love with such an unfiltered, pure sort of love that really disappears when you get older and more cynical about the things you enjoy. I’ll love Star Wars until the day I die, and that’s something heavily attributable to nostalgia, but I doubt I’ll carry the same everlasting love towards franchises I experienced as an adult, like the Mass Effect games, though you could easily make the argument that the Mass Effect series is vastly superior to Star Wars in terms of storytelling and world building. Nostalgia’s powerful like that. The problem is that, when you’re that influenced by nostalgia, sometimes you forget the flaws and problems that something has, to the point where you cannot even fathom something you feel nostalgia for having anything at all that needs to be fixed or improved upon.
That’s a lot of what the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges feels like to me. It feels like these guys loved the Stooges so much as kids, to the point where any issues those classic sketches might have had in translating to a modern film have been completely wiped away. As such, the movie is absolutely godawful.
The Three Stooges
Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Release Date: April 13th
There’s been a lot of hoo-ha about how The Three Stooges is comprised of three episodes, akin to how the Stooges were experienced in the old days, and you might read that and think that you’re in for three thirty-minute shorts, each with their own plot and possibly vaguely connected for some narrative reason. Not so. What we get is a full on ninety-minute film with title cards introducing the first, second, and third act. It feels like an afterthought from a previous draft where the Farrellys did full on want to have three short films. The film is the Stooges origin story, from their arrival on the steps of an orphanage run by Mother Superior (Jane Lynch). Of course, they have to leave the nest in order save the orphanage, which needs a large amount of money to stay in operation. How do they inevitably help to save their ancestral home? Hijinks, if you couldn’t guess, ensue all over the place.
There’s a single devastating flaw at the heart of nearly every moment of Three Stooges, and it’s basically the biggest reason why the film doesn’t work for me. See, with the original Three Stooges bits, there’s a temptation to call it simple stupid slapstick, but that’s really not so. Go out and watch some classic Stooges. It can be in the Shemp days, or afterwards. Every sequence is really very well thought out and constructed. Each beat and punch leads into the next, each gag sets up another and another. It’s laid out like a piece of music, almost. It’s not just three dudes hitting each other in inventive ways, is what I’m saying.
In this new film, it really does just feel like three dudes hitting each other to appease the audience. There’s really only a single sequence within the film that feels like a classic Stooges bit, where future gags are set up well in advance of the actual payoff, and you’re left there sitting and wondering how each bit is going to fit in with each other. That’s the kind of stuff I loved out of the Stooges back in the day, watching them at six in the morning before school as a little boy.
As such, the central quality of the Stooges, as characters and entertainers, is thoroughly gutted, and there’s not really a lot more I could talk about. I could tell you about the so-ludicrous-it-kinda-works cameo from the Jersey Shore crew, Sofia Vergara’s appearance as a busty, shrill villain, or how the novelty of seeing Larry David dressed as a nun somehow, against all odds, loses novelty really quickly. I should mention that, no matter the film’s failings, the Farrellys have found three fairly perfect actors for Larry, Moe, and Curly in Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopolus, and Will Sasso. The Farrelly brothers had a mission to extract, as is, the original Stooges and place them in a modern setting, and they’ve achieved just that. Diamantopolus in particular is the standout. He’s no so much playing Moe as he is Moe, down to every little mannerism and eyepoke. While the transformations for Hayes and Sasso are admirable, neither of them have quite the classical presence as Diamantopolus has as Moe. If nothing else, I’d like to see a sequel just to see more Moe.
It’s always a shame to see a labor of love on the level of The Three Stooges fail so completely. A film like this, featuring fifty year old characters acting exactly as they did fifty years ago, doesn’t get made without a whole lot of love and respect for the characters and what they stand for. Unfortunately, that love and respect seems to be in vain.