This weekend, with critical fanfare ranging from scathing to drunkenly enthusiastic, directing duo the Farrelly Bros. The Three Stooges overperformed at the domestic box office, grossing a tremendous $17 million against the juggernaut The Hunger Games (the movie was estimated to deliver around $10 million). With buzz for the movie focused mostly on scantily-cald nuns and Catholic League controversy, the money-making comedy is a surprise. So how'd it happen? According to Hollywood.com Box Office Analyst Paul Dergarabedian, the PG rating helped direct families to the movie theater — but those driving the minivans may have been part of the massive Stooge fanbase to begin with.
As owner of the "Stoogeum" — a 10,000 square-foot, three-story building that houses Stooge memorabilia, a Stooge research library, a 16mm film vault and a screening room for all things Stooge — Gary Lassin is tapped directly into the vein of Stooge fandom. After finding his way into the Stooges genealogical tree ("I grew up with them as a kid, but my mistake was marrying into Larry Fine's family"), Lassin created the Stoogeum in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, as a home for his vast collection of memorabilia. This weekend was something unprecedented for Lassin and the dedicated fans of Larry, Curly and Moe. Of course, the Stoogeum curator caught the film opening weekend.
"My expectations were low. The film was behind the eight ball from the get-go for hardcore fans. The Stooges were black & white shorts on a $30,000 budget. This is a color feature film on a $30 million budget." Lassin's skepticism echoed the Stooge devotees, a "built in" fanbase the comedic historian admitted would be provoked into theaters either way.
"Half thought it was blasphemy to try and make the movie, half were eager looking forward to it. Now that people have seen it, the people looking forward to it liked it, the people who weren't looking forward to it weren't going to see or didn't like it."
Lassin hits the nail on the head: babyboomers who grew up on Stooges aren't that different than the target demographic that clamors for the latest comic book movie or installment of Twilight. They just haven't had a movie to flock to the last few decades. The box office history is supportive of Lassin's theory; in the last seven years, the Farrelly Bros. (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber) haven't had a movie gross more than $50 million dollars — they're not exactly pitching a perfect game. Stooges marks their third highest grossing weekend, behind Me, Myself and Irene and Shallow Hal, two films headlined by bonafide stars. What made Stooges a success? Stooge fans like Lassin.
According to Lassin, the latest incarnation of Stooge comedy "sounded like a Stooges script, it looked like a Stooges film" and was a fitting tribute. He had reservations: "There's a reason why the Stooges did shorts. The violence is funny, but in small doses. This was a big dose. I don't want to say there was too much violence and slapping… but there was. I think they realized they were up against this problem and they divided it into the three segments. They realized Stooges can't sustain taste for an hour and a half.
"The dialogue was very Stooge-like. Too many references to 2012. There were some inconsistencies. They knew what Geico and Heineken were, but they didn't know what an iPhone was. They were almost time travelers, like the convent was cut off from reality. But in the real Stooges, there were things that didn't make sense if you thought about it. The original ones were so fast-paced, you didn't have time to think about what didn't make sense. You can't sustain that pace for an hour and a half, and I think for a hardcore fan, that's what was missing. "
Lassin admitted the movie was crafted by true fans, for fans, and it works for those who have loved Stooges and for newcomers who could enjoy the slapstick humor. But what about Shemp fans? "There's no room for Shemp. If you're going to pick three Stooges, you're obviously going to pick Curly. For most of the babyboomers it was Curly Howard. They identified with him. His childlike innocence. The face that he was picked on by Moe, who was a father figure. Not so much with Shemp. He was an acquired taste. There was a lot that didn't make it. No Shemp cameo, no pie fight — there was a lot that wasn't Stooge-like. But the Farrellys' heart was in it."
For more information on The Stoogeum, see the museum's official website.