Ethics & Public Policy Center

Outside Providence

Published in EPPC Online on August 1, 1999



Outside Providence, adapted from his own novel by Peter Farelly, with his brother, Bobby, and directed by Michael Corrente, is better than most of the other late-summer kid movies, such as Detroit Rock City, The Adventures of Sebastian Cole or Teaching Mrs. Tingle. For one thing, it actually has some sort-of funny lines in it—for example, “You wouldn’t know a classy broad if she took a dump on your head.” I also like the fact that it seems to have some sympathy for the boorish father, played by Alec Baldwin, of the hero, young Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), whom his dad calls by the affectionate nickname of “Dildo.” When the boy runs into a cop car in Pawtucket, R.I. while high on dope, dad uses a political connection to have him sent not to a juvenile home but to posh Cornwall Academy in Connecticut. “What’s a prep school?” Timothy asks, bewildered.

“It’s to prepare you for not gettin’ killed by me,” says Dad.

His settling into Cornwall Prep also has some funny moments, as when his English teacher asks the boys who their favorite authors are. They answer variously Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salinger, Jack London. Poor Dunph, who’s never read any of them (or anything else much either) replies with what he thinks is a safe answer: Hamlet. But soon he finds a level on which he can connect with the other Corwallians, or at least those plugged in to the youth culture of the 1970s, when the film is set. For what all those favorite writers have in common (Hamlet too, for that matter) is that they cherish the illusion of youth’s permanence. It is the thing one most notices about all of them: nobody ever expects to get old — or even, usually, to assume adult responsibilities.

Now this was an attitude that both the sons of privilege and those of toil had come to embrace by the mid-1970s. In particular, the drug culture at Cornwall Academy is reminiscent of that in Dazed and Confused. And while Dunph is learning to read Hemingway and Salinger, his best friend back in Pawtucket, Drugs Delaney (Jon Abrahams), is laboriously working his way through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, those authors’ 70s successor as champion of youthful self-indulgence. Soon enough, Dunph is one of the gang at Cornwall, just as if he had been born into the prosperous middle classes like his girlfriend, Jane (Amy Smart) — to whom, when she announces that she has got into Brown University, he says: “They’ve got one of those in Providence too, you know.”

In other words, like the Baby Boomer hero he is meant to be, he is frozen forever into place with the attitudes and values of his moment of golden youth. Outside Providence, thus has too much in common with the other kid-flicks really to rise above their level. What used to be known as a coming-of-age film would now be more accurately described as a not-coming-of-age film. Dunph and his real life, autobiographical prototype (the director is said to have chosen the project because he was the hero) may have been the first of their families to go to college, but I wonder how proud the families are that even now, a quarter of a century later, they still have the outlook on life of a college-student? This sensitive, pot-smoking rebel with a warm heart and no respect for authority or discipline is a strange creature indeed by the time he reaches his 40s — though, sadly, he can still get rich making movies which glorify young, sensitive, pot-smoking rebels.

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