Several years ago, LIFE magazine had a feature on conjoined twin girls who were just about to enter their teenage years. These pretty blond youngsters were joined from the chest down. They had separate cardiovascular systems, and different habits and personalities. But they had only a single set of digestive and sexual organs, and between them they had only two arms and two legs, one young lady controlling the right side, the other the left. In profiling them LIFE made the arresting observation that in learning to do such everyday activities as walk and ride a bicycle, they constituted a marvel of human accommodation, compromise and cooperation, a lesson for all the rest of us. I couldn't help but think of these real-life girls and the inspiring story of their lives together as I watched the Farrelly Brothers' current comedy Stuck On You.
Written and directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Stuck On You is the story of Bob (Matt Damon) and Walt (Greg Kinnear) Tenor, thirtysomething conjoined twins from small-town Massachusetts who are joined at the waist and share a liver unequally. Most of the critical organ belongs to Bob, and any surgery to separate them would greatly threaten Walt's ability to survive. As we meet them, Bob and Walt are pillars of their community. Athletic heroes in their high school years, they now operate a hamburger restaurant in their hometown, where they are surrounded by loyal customers and close friends. The only cloud on the horizon of their largely happy existence is that Bob is too shy to have much luck with women, and Walt nurses secret ambitions that aren't easy to reconcile with his limiting physical condition. Walt is a gifted actor who regularly stars in local theatrical productions. This requires that Bob, who is given to anxiety attacks and suffers mightily from stage fright, dress in black or be costumed as a prop. Now Walt would really like to try his hand at professional film and television, but how can he do that with a brother who's "always hanging around."
Before launching into any commentary on Stuck On You, let me admit that I have hardly been an ardent fan of the Farrelly Brothers' previous work. I can only admit with embarrassment to having laughed at some moments in Dumb and Dumber, which I found far more offensive than funny. I thought There's Something About Mary was more interesting and sometimes genuinely hilarious but still needlessly gross. And I found Me, Myself and Irene turgid with Jim Carrey's self-indulgent self-satisfaction. So until they made Shallow Hal, I regarded only the little-seen Kingpin with much affection. Shallow Hal, though, was a breakthrough, not because it was that tightly wrought but because it evinced so much fundamental decency. And now we get Stuck On You, a picture about a liver connection that has a heart as big as Wyoming.
There's a lot of predictable silliness in Stuck On You. The idea that Bob and Walt could be star pitchers for their high school baseball team, play quarterback and running back on the football team and continue to be a star goalie on an amateur hockey team is purely ludicrous and not terribly funny. Elsewhere, the Farrellys seek laughs from the contortions the twins must perform so that Walt can have sex with a bar conquest and Bob can attempt to conceal his physical condition from May (We Yann Shih), a beautiful but profoundly shy girl he met on the Internet. Some of this produces laughs; some doesn't.
Those familiar with the Farrellys' earlier work will note their almost shocking decision to eschew the gross-out humor that has been so central to their comedy. There is a reference to a DNA sample that would qualify, but it is dropped in with such subtlety that no one in the audience with whom I saw the picture seemed to notice. Meanwhile, as if to tease their own viewers, they stage a scene in a restaurant called a "beanery" and deliver only the rumble of a motorcycle for sound effects.
Much of the plot is driven by the Tenor Brothers' adventures in Hollywood. Cher, parodying her own image as a high-maintenance bitch, tries to break a television series contract by insisting on Walt as her co-star. But Walt turns out to be pretty good, and when the public learns he's a conjoined twin, the series rockets to No. 1 in the ratings. A lot of the best humor emerges in this series of developments. What finally works, though, is the way the Farrellys' script moves us from laughing at the absurd situation of their heroes first to seeing them as sympathetic human beings and second to understanding, as they really always do, the several ways, psychic as well as physical, that they need each other. Stuck On You would appear to be about deformity, but really it's about brotherly love.
- Doubleheader: Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear provide a comedic curveball as conjoined twins in the Farrelly Brothers' latest, Stuck On You.