Outside Providence (United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Outside Providence is a simple coming of age story, a nostalgia-soaked trip back to the mid-'70s when the social fabric of the American youth was stitched together by sex, drugs, and rock music. The film, despite never venturing into uncharted territory, is funny, warm, and endearing, and features a protagonist who grows on the audience. Because the themes are universal (first love, rebellion against restrictive authority, generational friction), nearly everyone, regardless of their age or gender, should be able to relate to the experiences of Timothy "Dildo" Dunphy.

The screenplay for Outside Providence was written by the Farrelly brothers (with an assist from director Michael Corrente), and is based on Peter Farrelly's novel. Those expecting an outrageous romp like the Farrellys have produced in the past (Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There's Something About Mary) will be surprised (and perhaps disappointed). Outside Providence is a subdued effort, and proves that the Farrellys are capable of producing more substantive and adult fare than we have seen from them in the past. And, perhaps because they wanted a different tone for this film, they chose Corrente (Federal Hill, American Buffalo) to stand behind the camera.

The film opens in Pawtucket, Rhode Island during the summer of 1974. Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), or Dunph, as his friends call him, has nothing better to do than to while away the days smoking dope and hanging out with friends with names like Drugs Delaney (Jon Abrahams). One evening, however, while stoned, Dunph gets into an accident with a parked cop car. His father (Alec Baldwin) is furious, and promptly pulls a few strings to get Dunph sent off to the Cornwall Academy, an exclusive prep school that has a reputation for academic excellence and discipline.

Cornwall has a seemingly endless list of rules, but the three most important are no drugs, no alcohol, and no sex. Dunph, of course, manages to break all three on numerous occasions. The game is to avoid being caught. During his time at Cornwall, Dunph falls in love with an "unattainable" girl, wins her affections in return, becomes serious about studying, and turns his life around. The material is standard fare for this kind of motion picture, but the script handles the familiar situations well and presents us with several likable characters. The voiceover narration is kept to a minimum, although Corrente relies on a few too many montages to convey advances in relationships.

For the lead role of Dunph, the film makers have chosen Shawn Hatosy, one of a number of up-and-coming male actors. Hatosy, whose last significant role came in Robert Rodriguez' The Faculty, has a familiar face and a solid acting style. This is not a great performance, but it fits the role. Amy Smart, the talented and affable actress whose previous credits include Varsity Blues, plays Dunph's girlfriend, Jane. Gabriel Mann, who has "weasel" written all over him, plays Cornwall's resident skunk. Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin (the biggest name in the cast) gives a strong and surprisingly low-key turn as Old Man Dunphy, and George Wendt has a small role as Joey, one of his poker buddies.

Outside Providence effectively treads the line between comedy and drama, providing us with an enjoyable confection that's neither too leaden nor too airy. As a coming of age story, it's comfortable and effective; it hits all the high points and follows the expected general structure. There are serious moments, such as when Joey makes a surprising confession, or when Dunph learns a lesson about mortality. But, as one would expect from the Farrelly Brothers, there are quite a few laughs to be had, as well - and some of them are pretty big. But none of the jokes are as over-the-top or outrageous as we have come to expect. Instead of bodily fluid hair gel, we have verbal ripostes and modern-day proverbs ("Sex is like a Chinese dinner - it ain't over till you both get your cookies"). Overall, while Outside Providence isn't the kind of movie that challenges an audience, it is likely to cause most viewers to leave the theater with a warm, pleasant feeling inside.

Outside Providence (United States, 1999)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 1999-09-03
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Drugs, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1