Bobby Farrelly On The Sweet Sincerity Of His New Film, ‘Champions’

It’s been nine years since Bobby Farrelly has directed a movie, 2014’s Dumb and Dumber To, which he co-directed with his brother, Peter. (When I spoke to Peter for 2018’s Green Book, he did mentioned that Bobby had stepped away to spend time with his family after the death of Bobby’s son.) It’s weird now watching the movies these two are directing separately. There’s always been an sincere and sweet undertone to the Farrelly brothers’s movies. When they are at their best is when we truly love the characters. And watching Champions, this is a movie brimming with heart and sincerity. And it seems pretty obvious, now, that this trait in the duo’s movies comes from Bobby. (Bobby does not disagree.)

Bobby Farrelly knows what you’re probably thinking of when you hear “One half of the Farrelly brothers directs a movie about special needs kids playing on a basketball team.” He admits there’s not much he can do about that, but those misconceptions are ill-advised. This topic has been something close to Farrelly’s heart for a long time and, as stated earlier, this is a very sincere and sweet film.

Woody Harrelson plays Marcus a development league assistant basketball coach in Iowa that gets fired from the team for getting in an altercation during a game, then gets thrown in jail for drunk driving. The judge sentences him to community service, coaching a basketball team for special needs kids. As you might expect, Marcus learns a little bit more about himself than he bargained for. There’s no great plot surprise in Champions, it’s just an old-fashioned, feel-good comedy that we don’t really ever see in theaters anymore.

Ahead, Farrelly explains what it’s like finally directing a movie without his brother. And, speaking of his brother, he tells us what it was like when Peter directs his first movie without Bobby and wins an Oscar. The way Bobby sees it, since Peter also owns a Razzie award, those two things cancel each other out.

I got very emotional during this movie and I wasn’t expecting that.

Well, that’s great. You know what, I cried making it once or twice. We have these ten actors in it, all with varying degrees of intellectual disabilities and many of whom had never acted before and just working with them was so much fun. The whole crew, it was magical. It’s like at the beginning everyone was a little walking on eggshells around each other. We didn’t know what our limitations were, if any. And everyone was just … we didn’t know what to expect. Well, by the end of the shoot, every single person on the crew was a fast friend with everyone else. We were all together. And you realized too, that none of these actors – even though they had never acted before – none of them held us back in any way whatsoever. They were as good as I could have possibly have as a director. And it was just so much fun working with them and telling this story. And it was a joy.

I know your history with hiring special needs people and how much this means to you. But were you at all worried that when people hear, “One of the Farrelly brothers is doing a movie about special needs kids playing basketball,” they might think this a movie made in bad faith?

Well, there will be some people who probably will still think that. There’s nothing I can do about that. I just have to be able to sleep with myself. The way I can sleep with myself is if I know that people that are actually in this world – that have either children or brothers or siblings with intellectual disabilities – if they like it, I’m happy. Because they’re the ones – and people with intellectual disabilities themselves – if they’re happy, I’m happy. And if they weren’t happy, I would be devastated because I would’ve felt like I did them wrong. And I never wanted to do that. Okay. So it’s them. It’s the people at the Special Olympics. It’s the people that run organizations like Best Buddies and things like that. If they’re happy with how we portray everything, then I’m happy. And they are happy. So I can only care so much about what people think who haven’t seen the movie or projecting what it’s about.

Also, you made a comedy that’s actually going to be a movie theaters. It doesn’t happen very often anymore.

No. Comedy’s kind of been on hiatus the last few years. And it’s too bad, too, because more than ever we need to laugh, right? Our society’s like, laughter’s good. It is good. Particularly if it’s laughter that comes from the right place. And this movie does, this is not a movie where we’re laughing at anyone.

No, absolutely not.

And we’re laughing at circumstance and things like that. And so, I don’t know. I hope that comedy makes a full rebound and I think it will actually, because people are starving for it.

How did you like directing alone? I think this is the first time, right? I know Peter’s done two.

I’ve directed some things alone, but in the TV world. And I’ve shot some commercials and stuff like that. So I have worked alone. But in a project like this, a 40-day shoot, it is a little daunting. I’ve had such a great career working with my brother and what we bring to each other is a different point of view. And also, if we see something the same way, it gives us confidence that we’re doing it right. Sometimes you’re wondering … you just question. And so when you have someone right next to you that you know has the exact same goal in mind, which is to make a good movie or something, and you can trust each other’s opinion, that’s huge.

So to do it on your own? It’s a little more daunting I guess. But you know who helped me on this one was Woody Harrelson. Woody’s a good buddy and he loved this movie. He loved the idea of it. He loved the actors he was working with. He loved his character. He loved it so much that he was a huge help to me. It was almost like he was such a generous actor working with his co-actors that he did a lot of directing help for me. He’d backed them up and he’d be out there and he’d do things that were so invaluable to me. But it’s just because he wanted it to work so much. And like I said, he was so generous as an actor. He really was. He helped out incredibly because Woody’s had so much experience. I think he’s made 110 movies or something like that. And he’s just terrific.

Here’s where you can tell me I’m wrong. I’ve obviously seen Peter’s Green Book and Greatest Beer Run Ever. Now watching your solo movie, in the Farrelly brothers movies, I get the sense the sweetness and sincerity come from you. Watching this movie is one of the sweetest, most sincere movies I’ve ever seen. All the movies you did together have an underlying sereneness and I think that’s from you.

Well, Peter would be so mad right there. Thank you. You’re absolutely right.

You know what, Peter won the Best Picture Oscar. I think he’s doing just fine.

Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. But no, you know what? It was this story. This story called for it. Each story’s a little bit different of how much heart. We always believe that you’ve got to put some heart in it. Even when we made Dumb and Dumber, we wanted you to actually like those guys. They’re dumb, but we’re not laughing because they’re so dumb that let’s laugh at these guys. We wanted you to actually like them, Harry and Lloyd.

It doesn’t work if you don’t like them.

Exactly. All of our movies, whether it’s There’s Something About Mary or anything else, you got to put a little bit of heart in there for our humor to work because we do go over. We go way over the line on a lot of things. But if you like the people, you go with them and you laugh with it. But this movie, more than most that we’ve done, is a story that it called for a lot of heart.

So I remember when I interviewed Peter for Green Book and he said he was talking to you a lot during that. And I know the reasons why you had to take a step back for a while. But from a competitive standpoint almost, is it weird to you the first time he goes solo without you he wins Best Picture?

It was definitely a little, yeah … Pete goes out and makes a movie for the first time without me and it wins an Oscar. Do the math. Well, my answer to that is this: that one time along the way when we were making all of our movies together, we got an offer to do a small part in another movie called Movie 43.

Oh yeah, I’ve seen that movie.

I said, I don’t want anything to do with it. Pete didn’t say that. He did have something to do with it and they won a Razzie!

Yeah, you made the right decision on that one.

He won a Razzie! But then he won Oscar. So we’re just back to even, that’s all.

So in your mind, it’s even Steven because the Razze and the Oscar cancel each other out?

They negate each other.

I will say, I thought during this whole movie that I had the ending figured out and until the last second I thought I was right and then I was wrong. Anyway, this movie has a great ending.

Yeah, I mean, that’s just what it is. That’s the credo of the Special Olympics. If you’ve ever been to a Special Olympics event, they’re really something else. It’s really incredible because everyone wants to win and I think they say, let me try to win, but let me be brave in the attempt or something. But they’re happy when the other team wins. They’re happy for them. Were the Philadelphia Eagles happy with for the Kansas City Chiefs?

No, I can tell you for a fact they are not. As A Chiefs guy, I got yelled at by Eagles fans that night.

Yeah, it’s the fans mainly, they can’t get it. But then when you actually see professional athletes after a hard-fought game like that and they’re all talking to each other and they’re shaking hands and they’re laughing, they’re smiling, as a fan sometimes you’re like, what’s going on here? How come they’re not as mad as I am? I think there is that understanding that the other guys are professional, too. But anyway, in the Special Olympics world, that’s a much bigger element. It’s not about getting to the top of the podium. It’s about being there and having a good time and giving it your best. And that’s what the movie was about.

The end credits are similar to There’s Something About Mary. With the cast performing a musical number, this time to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”

Yeah, it was a little bit of a callback to that, but our friends deserved it. We wanted to see them all having and capture them a little bit more like they are in real life and they’re pretty close to how they played their characters. But they’re just a great group and they’re really fun and that song helped capture that.

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