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The Farrelly brothers' 'Outside Providence' shows what a drag it is being young.

By Ashley Fantz

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999:  Not since Dazed and Confused has a '70s coming-of-age story managed to rise above its cloud of pot smoke and say something poignant. Unlike American Pie, that gets literal yucks from audiences -- for its, well, hands-on approach to teenage sexuality -- Outside Providence knows that high school kids suffer a vast array of humiliating life lessons. And who better than Peter Farrelly, creator of Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary, to turn humiliation into a laugh and empathetic sighs from audiences.

Peter Farrelly was a scraggly, poor writer when he penned the story of his Providence, Rhode Island, adolescence. It became a dime-store novel that equally poor, aspiring director Michael Corrente picked up and loved. A decade or so later, after both had Hollywood calling cards, they translated to film the novel's main character Tim Dunphy, known to his Pawtucket, Rhode Island, friends as Dunph; known to his belligerent old-school father as Dildo. Cast for his crooked teeth, actor Shawn Hatosy authentically plays Dunph as a blue-collar slacker. When Dunph crashes into a parked police car, his father Old Man Dunphy, portrayed with bulls-eye "Car Tawk" delivery by Alec Baldwin, ships the teen off to Cornwall Academy. In a year's time at the prep school, where everyone else is a thoroughbred, Dunph deals with alienation, betrayal, a broken heart, the death of a friend, family rejection, and suicide. All that and feathered hair. Hatosy deserves an Oscar.

Although Outside Providence is very funny, it's not packed with Farrelly and his brother Bobby's expected brand of sicko slapstick. Director Michael Corrente's darker sensibilities give the film its necessary drama. Ordinary acts are turned into intimate moments, such as when old Man Dunphy teaches his son how to tie a tie. Corrente incorporated in the script his own childhood experience with his farm-reared mother shooting ornaments off the family Christmas tree. The scene is one of Outside Providence's most revealing.

This film will likely carry itself on Baldwin's hefty shoulders. Unless you're a moviegoer who keeps up on stage acting, you might think he's appeared in a string of crap-acts from The Getaway to Malice. In fact, he was nominated for a Tony for his performance as Tony in A Streetcar Named Desire and an Obie for the theatre version of Prelude to a Kiss. His performance as a cross between Al Bundy and Socrates as represented in Outside Providence's most quotable lines, "Sex is like a Chinese dinner. It's not over until both of you get your cookies," is just one example of the film's memorable one-liners. This is the oldest Baldwin brother's finest performance as a man who constantly fights to keep his children on the right path. It was worth the actor putting on an extra spare-tire to play the part.

The unexpected treat in this indie is its ensemble cast of unknowns. Jon Abrahams as Dunph's Pawtucket pal Drugs Delaney delivers the quintessential stoner performance as does Alex Toma as Cornwall's well-connected weed dealer Billy Fu. Amy Smart, who was last seen in the teen football fantasy Varsity Blues, portrays blue-blood good-girl Jane Weston with the necessary all-American Colgate smile. And Jack Fervor's wickedly pathetic depiction of Cornwall Academy's indominatible nerd Gizz makes Outside Providence the only teen film you can stand to watch if you're not a teen. -- Ashley Fantz



My Son the Fanatic is a deep, comic, little heartbreaker. Directed by Udayan Prasad and written by Hanif Kureishi, it deals with identity, responsibility, and betrayal.

Parvez (Om Puri) left his native Pakistan for an industrial town in northern England after rejecting his religious upbringing. He works as a taxi driver, making meager wages to bring home to his subservient though resentful wife, Minoo (Gopi Desai).

Parvez carts about one special fare, the prostitute Bettina (Rachel Griffiths). After Bettina does her business in the cab, Parvez brags about his son Farid (Akbar Kurtha) and revels in his son's assimilation to his adopted country. Farid is studying accounting and is engaged to be married to a prominent police chief's daughter. Parvez works feverishly planning an engagement party for the pair.

But Parvez's party plans and hopes for his son are dashed when Farid breaks the engagement and embraces the fundamentalist Muslim teachings of his father's country, the same ones from which Parvez fled. Matters reach a boiling point when Farid invites a high-ranking Muslim priest to stay in the family's home. The house is soon teeming with followers, and the men begin a campaign against the city's prostitutes, including Bettina, with whom Parvez has begun a tender affair.

In My Son the Fanatic, Prasad and Kureishi have crafted a film that recognizes a side of human nature that turns a blind eye to certain realities of life and how split-second events can destroy years of this type of fantasy, forcing a person to come face-to-face to the decisions he's made. Parvez, touchingly acted by Puri, doesn't seemed bothered by what the prostitutes do in his backseat, but when Farid and the other Muslims come to blows with the women, it's as if years of denial have melted off him and he can finally see the good and evil of both his new life and his old.

The filmmakers also show how deftly personalities can shift. With the removal of a wig, the saucy prostitute Bettina becomes a sensitive Sandra. And while Parvez is utterly ingratiating to his taxi's customers, he is, albeit a shaky one, ruler of his own home.

In the end, the sum of all these personalities and their actions cannot coexist peacefully. It is a climax of pain and realization, and one that sticks with the viewer. -- Susan Ellis


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