Stuck on You
In recent years, when Hollywood has dealt with disability in the movies, it hasn't made too bad a fist of it, as a general rule. Just think of "The Theory of Everything" (2014), or "The Sessions" (2012), or "Warm Springs" (2005). I put to one side the uncomfortable, vaguely politically-correct-only nods to disability in “Pearl Harbor” (2001). These films confronted disability issues directly, didn't trivialise or over-sentimentalise the topic (though some may partially disagree with this in the case of "The Sessions"), and overall presented the disabled characters as more or less normal people trying to cope with exceptional circumstances as best they can.
However, not many movies have dared treat disability as a comedy. The Farrelly brothers, Peter and Robert, are an exception. I recently came across their movie, "Stuck on You", made in 2003, on night-time TV. Even though the film is 13 years old, I've never seen it before. It deals with the topic of Siamese twins, although I understand the term "conjoined twins" is more acceptable these days.
Now, if you've seen movies by the Farrelly brothers – such as "Dumb and Dumber", or "There's Something about Mary", or "Shallow Hal", – you know that they are strong on a gross-out style of rather crass, often in-your-face comedy. They like to prick sacred cows. So, you might be forgiven for trembling at the idea of letting loose the Farrelly brothers on a film about disability. They not only directed "Stuck on You", they produced it and wrote the screenplay. Should we put on our "political correctness" hats and prepare to be outraged? Well, no. Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and, although it is presented as a comedy, it deals with the problems of being conjoined twins in a relatively serious way that underlies the light-hearted fun of the story.
The twins, Bob and Walt, played by Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, are joined at the hip and share a liver. They have been offered "the operation" (ie, to separate them), but they get on together so well, and have adapted to life so well, they see no reason to run the risks of surgery. They run a short-order burger joint in Martha's Vineyard, where they are happy, successful, and accepted by everyone. They also dabble in amateur theatricals. Walt (Greg Kinnear) decides he wants to try his luck in Hollywood and, persuading a reluctant Bob (Matt Damon), they move to California. After many rejections, Walt is offered a role in a TV "private eye" show by Cher (playing herself) who is the show's bitchy, self-absorbed, manipulative lead actor and power-behind-the-throne. For her own dark reasons, she wants to hire the twins to bring about disaster for the production. To everyone's surprise, the show is a smash hit and Walt and Bob become huge media sensations.
In the meantime, both have acquired very nice girlfriends and, after some shock/horror from the girls, the relationships become serious. This leads to the brothers deciding to have "the operation"after all, so they can, at last, be intimate with their ladies in private. The operation is a success, but, deprived of its major selling point, Cher's TV show rapidly declines in ratings. Bob and Walt are, however, happy with their partners, and are, sort of, enjoying their new, separate lives … until they realise they desperately miss each other, their old, conjoined lives and ways of doing things together. What to do about this dilemma?
I won't spoil the ending by revealing it. Suffice it to say that, along the way, the movie entertainingly but sympathetically looks at life as a conjoined twin: how does one have sex with his girlfriend with his conjoined brother there on the spot? How do conjoined twins play hockey? (Bob and Walt play various sports, with hilarious results.) How do they fight in a bar-room brawl when picked on by beer-sodden rednecks? How does a TV show feature Walt as its star, while trying to keep conjoined Bob out of shot? How does a conjoined twin break the news to his first date that his brother will be tagging along on every date? What happens when he can't bear to tell her the truth? How does the girlfriend react? These sorts of issues are directly addressed by the Farrelly brothers in engagingly fresh and amusing ways that never demean the characters or trivialise their problems. The two brothers are optimistic and cheerful (well, most of the time), solving their difficulties with (usually) breezy humour and a resolve – particularly in Walt's case – to try anything.
Damon and Kinnear are in excellent form as the conjoined twins. Eva Mendes and Wen Yann Shih are cute, honest, and after initial hesitations and doubts, fully accepting and helpful (well, after some crises) as the twins' girlfriends. Cher is deliciously self-mocking as herself. Several A-list celebs play themselves in brief cameos: eg, Meryl Streep plays herself as a polite restaurant diner, not wanting to give offence, when she is accosted by a hero-worshipping Walt dragging along Bob who is aghast at this violation of Meryl's privacy. I must say, all the cast seem to have enjoyed themselves thoroughly in this film, as it all comes together in a way that is funny, warm, serious, respectful of the disability but not over-awed by it, and ultimately highly entertaining.
If disability can be turned into comedy, a comedy that doesn't mock or belittle, then this is the way to do it.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * * 1/4