Outside Providence
directed by Michael Corrente
(Miramax, 1999)

I'm not sure what I expected from this movie, to be honest. A friend recommended it to me, pitching it as a sort of bourgeois art flick, and the box made it look like a comedy. Still, since I'm trying to watch at least one movie a day for awhile, I picked it up.

I can't exactly say that it was a black comedy. Or a particularly funny comedy, for that matter. Nor was it anything resembling an art flick. It was more like a long-version That '70s Show with more morals and much more foul language.

Druggie has druggie friends and a yelling father and a disabled brother in a wheelchair. While partying one night and trying to "stinkfinger" some girl named Bunny, our hero hits a parked police car under the influence. As a condition of being let out of jail, his father enrolls him into a swanky prep school, where the drug-dulled one comes to terms with his underachiever nature and finds his opposite as a love interest.

It sounds vaguely simplistic -- and in some ways, it's a lot like other movies. Like a bastard-child of Dead Poets Society and one of the myriad of '70s drug-culture films that were so popular in the late '90s. There's an evil dorm administrator that doesn't like the main character. There's a close-knit group of unreliable, long-haired friends back in P-town. And there's the working-class father with a strangely Bostonian accent who calls his son "dildo" instead of his name (Tim). The love interest is the most unlikely choice, the best friend at school is an implied weasel.

I could go on. But you get the drift. It's a little stereotypical and predictable because of the plot that has to take place due to the characterization.

However! (And that's a big "however") ... the film is oddly enjoyable. Not put-it-on-your-list-of-favorite-movies enjoyable, but not a movie that you wish for the previous two hours of your life back, either.

Part of that fair-to-middlin' feeling is the fact that the acting was pretty darn good. Alec Baldwin, who plays Tim's beer-swilling, insult-tossing, macho-man father, for example. Even though he's an abusive, homophobic pig of a character, Baldwin somehow manages to play him as a man with a lot of pride and a lot of pain, which is impressive considering that he wasn't given much to work with. Insults, underwear and the occasional poker game scene doesn't make for good character-building opportunity. By the time that particular scene rolls around (since there inevitably has to be one), you already like the guy despite his flaws -- and that's a tough, tough thing to pull off.

The kid who plays Tim (Shawn Hatosy)did a fairly good job, as well. Through the course of the film, you can actually see the changes in his demeanor that lead him to this place where his decisions are different. He shows a lot of vulnerability and a lot of stupidity, but he pulls it off with panache, and the ol' college try is good enough in this case.

Tim's first few weeks at school are rocky, as one would imagine would be the case in a movie about class struggles. His dorm admin hates him, his friends seem to consist of a weasely guy and a nerd they call "Jizz," for obvious reasons. When he's called into the dean's office, the last thing you'd expect to be the problem is a letter from home.

Tim's best friend, Drugs, wrote him a letter that the stuffed-shirt dean proceeds to read for him. Out loud. As Tim gets more and more mortified by Drugs' commentary on life in his absence, the director uses cut-scenes to show the action being read to him.

By the time the excruciatingly long letter is finished, I was on the floor, both laughing and remembering that kind of mortification. It was a great scene.

But some parts of the film were drawn out longer than they needed to be. There are slow areas, painful areas and parts that will leave you in stitches. As long as you aren't expecting another There's Something About Mary, you should be fine.

One thing I found amazing in this film wasn't the change in Tim during his love affair, but the ingenious creation of bongs from found objects. Had the writers possibly done more writing and less converting of cylindrical objects into drug parphenalia, the plot may have been a little better.

If it doesn't have one, they should release a CD of the music of Outside Providence. It was a spectacular collection of 1970s rock and popular music, and whoever picked it out should be given a medal of honor. Great stuff for hippie-wanna-bes.

In conclusion, watching Outside Providence is easier than a sharp stick in the eye, and probably more enjoyable, as well. Despite its cliches and stereotypes, and the odd bit of predictability, the film has a pretty good mix of highs and lows. I wouldn't spend the money on a theater ticket, but since it's on video, you won't have to -- just haul yourself to your local independent video store and have at it.

Don't expect miracles, or to laugh hard enough to hurt anything. It's a quieter sort of funny than what we've come to expect from the Farrelly brothers (who wrote and produced this one, but left the direction to Michael Corrente), but it manages to barely avoid being milquetoast. Another inch in any direction, though, and it might have been.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.