Outside Providence opens with a series of 16mm film, the type of family scrapbook that used to introduce America to The Wonder Years every week. Then comes the film’s first line: “Hey dildo!” Within those two-minutes you can see the problem that plagues this movie throughout: attempting to be sentimental and meaningful while employing a crude and offensive humor. The mix created is ultimately akin to that of aspirin and vodka.
Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) is going into his senior year of high school and his best grades are D’s, his dog is missing a leg, his little brother is handicapped, his friends have no future and he seems to have none either. One night, Tim convinces his father that his bong is a musical instrument and smuggles it out of the house for entertainment purposes. Before long, a parked police car falls victim to his friends and him driving stoned. Upon hearing the news and bailing him out of the police station, Tim’s father (Alec Baldwin) finds an answer to this irresponsible behavior that is equally devastating to Tim and good for his future: prep school.
Outside Providence includes all the obligatory stereotypes of a boarding school, namely a single minority student, a campus-elected loser, strict rules and the one girl that every guy wants. (There is only one girl ever shown at the school to begin with, perhaps the filmmakers forgot to hire extras that day.) Tim successfully avoids the minority, befriends the geek, breaks the rules and gets the girl. If this doesn’t sound familiar enough already, wait until you learn that Tim’s mother is dead and that he has a rocky relationship with his father, who just happens to be an alcoholic and homophobe. (Any guesses as to what Old Man Dunphy learns about one of his best pals while playing poker one day?)
The production does have a standout soundtrack highlighted by artists including The Who, The Allman Brothers, The Beach Boys, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steely Dan, Yes and The Eagles. The tunes help create a realistic 1970’s feel that does make the film’s setting believable.
Holden Caulfield promised to leave out “all that David Copperfield kind of crap.” Outside Providence seems confused about what exactly should be left out. As Tim travels between school and home with relative ease, something that baffles this critic after a fuss is made about the two-and-half-hour commute, the movie tries to move between comedy and sentimental drama. Although the prep academy is as clich’d as any in a Hollywood film, the scenes in it are uproariously funny. Unfortunately you feel rather uncomfortable laughing because the moments at home are often overly-sentimental. Had the film cut down on one of these two environments and instead focused on the other, the end-product may have been a rather humorous school movie or poignant family film. Instead this video only offers confusion and clich’s.