3 Ways 'Dumb and Dumber To' Proves Nostalgia Is Dead
Dumb and Dumber To opened on Friday, marking the 20th anniversary of the first movie, which came out at a time when many of my Internet comedy peers and I were in middle school. The original Dumb and Dumber was an important film for a lot of us, because it taught us that even the most basic concept (two dumb guys on a road trip) can be perfectly executed with the right cast and team of writers.
It's also one of those things that was a product of its time -- we've been fine with just the one Dumb and Dumber movie for the past two decades, and the Farrelly brothers haven't done much in the intervening years to prove that we should be excited for them to revisit their masterpiece. Nobody saw Hall Pass and thought, "Wow, they should really get going on a There's Something About Mary sequel while they've still got the magic."
"Actually, nobody saw Hall Pass period."
This past weekend's lucrative release of Dumb and Dumber: Orphaned Old Men Careen Recklessly Through Their Twilight Years Into Hollow Oblivion also coincides with a phenomenon I've been noticing lately that I'm going to call the Death of Nostalgia, because it's late and I've never been good at titling things. Nostalgia has been big business for the past decade and a half (the biggest franchises in the world right now are comics and toys we all played with growing up), but it seems like we've reached a tipping point where we've mined all we can from the '80s and '90s. Now we have this bizarre relationship with nostalgia, where we recognize that we should be excited about some new sequel or reboot, but can't for the life of us come up with a single good reason why.
"Wow, a Baywatch reboot starring The Rock? That deserves to be the biggest story of the week ... we guess."
To wit, all of the Transformers movies have generally terrible user reviews that stand in direct contradiction to their astronomical box-office grosses -- we hate these movies, yet we cannot stop ourselves from going to see them. Same deal with the recent Ninja Turtles reboot -- atrocious user reviews coupled with sterling box-office receipts. Michael Bay must be some kind of warlock.
His philosopher's stone turns solid turds into solid gold.
"But how can nostalgia be dead when it's clearly a huge industry?" you might be asking. Well, allow me to force-feed you this bitter pill in three steps.
We're Not Creating Any New Nostalgia
We don't have the chance to be nostalgic about most things anymore, because the sequels either come out immediately (we're on the seventh Fast and Furious movie, and the first one came out before Sam Raimi's Spider-Man) or the movies are rebooted within five years (like Spider-Man and Batman). We're getting a new Ring movie (the first one came out less than 10 years ago) and a new Cabin Fever (ditto); we've had two Superman reboots in the past decade; and we're on course to experience the same number of Batman, Green Lantern, and Fantastic Four reboots.
We're getting a Lego Batman movie before the next reboot's even done, and we're told it will be awesome.
If you think it's weird that most of my examples are superhero movies, you shouldn't -- what has a more direct line to our nostalgia bone than comic books, cartoons, and action figures that we enjoyed when we were younger? There's a reason those franchises are the ones that keep getting tossed into the recycling bin, and it's because they all remind us of what it was like when we were kids.
All people either are kids, act like they're kids, or wish they were still kids.
And in the likely event that you've forgotten, because our brains will do everything they can to protect us from traumatic memories, this is actually the second time Hollywood has tried to resurrect Dumb and Dumber with nostalgia voodoo. Back in 2003, someone decided that Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, the wretchedly unfunny prequel featuring exactly none of the original cast or filmmakers, was the tonic we all needed in the wake of 9/11. So what we got last weekend was a sequel to a franchise that Tinseltown has already tried to reboot. I'm not sure what lesson we all were supposed to have learned, but it probably wasn't "wait 11 years for the stars and the audience to age into indifference and then try again."
We're Not Happy About the Nostalgia We Have
The only people I know who are planning to see Dumb and Dumber To have this sort of doomed sense of obligation about it, like they're about to walk the green mile or drive down to the hospital for biopsy results. It's nostalgia, but without the joy that's normally attached to it. It's like the nostalgia of looking through photos of dead relatives.
No one likes funerals, but you can't not go.
By now you've at least seen the trailers, and while every single scene looks absolutely terrible without exception, we can't help but feel fondness for the two main characters, even though the combination of their haircuts and demeanor seems more indicative of debilitating mental illness than charming and hilarious stupidity when delivered by two guys approaching 60. Incidentally, the last person to sport Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas haircut was Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. So that's the palette we're working with on this canvas.
Jeff Daniels' haircut was last seen on unwashed Jeff Daniels, every Sunday morning.
Anyway, that good will we feel toward Harry and Lloyd is us remembering what it was like to love the first movie, which in most cases is enough to sell a ticket. We can't just not see this new one -- we have to know for a fact that Dumb and Dumber is dead, 20 years in the past where we left it. Otherwise we'll never know, and leaving that question hanging in the air is enough to discolor our fond memories of the original. Knowing that there's something out there that could possibly enhance or redefine our feelings about Dumb and Dumber immediately puts those feelings in limbo, putting us in a position where we have to see the new one in order to get them back. Dumb and Dumber To is ransoming our nostalgia just by existing.
We Want Nostalgia to Go Away
This past week, we had our second big Macaulay Culkin death hoax. People on the Internet just keep starting rumors about the star of Richie Rich and Getting Even With Dad being dead. It's like we really want him to die, even though a lot of us grew up with him. Why the hell would we wish that on the Pagemaster? It was hard enough watching him get stung to death by bees in My Girl.
Or watching Jacob's Ladder, when
Bruce Willis Tim Robbins tells him he was dead the whole time.
To answer that, let's go back to my "leaving Dumb and Dumber dead in the past where it belongs" point from earlier. Culkin isn't really interested in making movies anymore -- he's been in maybe four films in the past decade, and that was after a 10-year hiatus. But there was a five-year window, from Home Alone to the aforementioned Getting Even With Ted Danson, in which anyone now between the ages of 25 and 30 watched every damn thing Culkin made. He was the most famous kid on the planet, and we all wanted to be him -- he got to make movies and cartoon shows and hang out with Michael Jackson back when that wasn't the opening sentence of a terrifying legal deposition.
We never saw it coming.
But ever since he (and his fans) became a teenager, Culkin has made himself pretty much invisible. He doesn't do movies, he doesn't do reality shows, he doesn't write books about being a child star. In other words, he's not giving us anything to be nostalgic about. Nostalgia, among its many other functions, is partly about closure -- it's validating our feelings about a certain thing from the past, encouraging us to cherish our memories of it while rooting it firmly in the place and time in which it meant the most to us. It's like we're all ready to close the Culkin chapter of our lives, but he himself clearly has no desire to help us do that. So he's gotta die.
Just like in The Good Son, we save Elijah.
It sounds grim (because it is), but think about it -- that's the only way we can be nostalgic about Culkin. That's the only way we can all share a collective nostalgia experience. Otherwise you're just some weirdo watching Macaulay Culkin movies.
And that's the thing -- it isn't so much that Dumb and Dumber To is proving that Hollywood has officially ridden the nostalgia train straight off the tracks into a bottomless gorge. It's that we, the moviegoing audience they've been catering to for the past decade, have finally gotten old enough that nostalgia doesn't make us happy.
I see Carrey and Daniels in these new previews and all I can think about is how old they look, and by extension how old I am. Transformers, Spider-Man, and the latest of four Batman franchises I've experienced in my life are all starting to remind me not of how it felt when I loved those things as a kid but of how long it's been since I was that kid. It's hard to go back and watch the original Dumb and Dumber and not think of how far Carrey's career has fallen in the past five years, or how quickly the Farrelly brothers ran out of gas, or how Charles Rocket (the SNL alumnus who played the villainous Mr. Andre) cut his own throat and bled to death in an empty field in Connecticut. The past isn't as much fun when it's carrying 20 years of unpleasant epilogues around with it.
The old lady from the movie is long dead now.
(Just kidding! She turns 102 this month and still acts.)
So by now some of you have probably seen Dumb and Dumber To and can judge how much it has affected your enjoyment of the original, if at all. I'll get around to it eventually, because like I said, I have to. Like carrying the One Ring to Mount fucking Doom, I'll force myself to sit through it, wishing all the while that the people responsible for one of my favorite movies growing up had been brave enough to get back together after 20 years to make something new.
For more from Tom, check out 6 High-Tech Movie Facilities That Make No Sense. And also check out 21 Movie Sequels Too Awesome to Exist.