Born on June 17, 1958 in Cumberland, RI, Farrelly was raised by his father, Robert Sr., a doctor, and his mother, Mariann, a nurse practitioner. Farrelly went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY on a hockey scholarship and came away with a bachelor's degree in geological engineering. Despite the impressive achievement, Farrelly was just as much of a slacker as his brother, Peter, who had quit his salesman job and moved to Hollywood. Farrelly soon joined Peter and his writing partner Bennett Yellin, as the three worked together penning screenplays. The two brothers - who collectively became known as the Farrelly Brothers - started their careers writing for television, earning their first credit on the David and Jerry Zucker-produced comedy special, "Our Planet Tonight" (NBC, 1987), which poked fun at TV magazine shows through roving reporter segments and pompous in-studio commentators. Their first big break came when they scripted two 1992 episodes of "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998), including "The Virgin," in which Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) dates a woman who has not lost her virginity (Jane Leeves) while struggling with George (Jason Alexander) to write their pilot idea for NBC.
Having seen so many of their film projects go down the developmental drain, Farrelly opted to direct his first feature, "Dumb and Dumber" (1994), which he wrote with Yellin and Peter, who also served as a co-producer - a daunting feat due to the fact that neither brother had ever picked up a camera before. The Farrelly Brothers, crediting Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974), John Landis' "Animal House" (1978) and the breakthrough Abraham-Zucker brothers collaboration "Airplane!" (1980) as inspirations, had grown tired of smart aleck comic heroes who were smarter than everyone else. They instead presented two doofus buddies (Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels) on a cross-country quest to deliver a briefcase of money to a beautiful woman (Lauren Holly), only to learn the hard way that it was ransom for her kidnapped husband. Riding the coattails of Carrey's star power, the Farrelly Brothers hit a homerun their first time at bat, generating over $125 million in domestic box office receipts, despite critics giving the gross-out comedy mixed reviews. Regardless, the Farrellys established themselves right from the start as a comedic force to be reckoned with.
The Farrelly Brothers faired less well with their follow-up, Kingpin (1996), which they co-directed but did not write. But the film barely managed to recoup its $25 million budget. The fault may well have been with MGM's lackluster marketing, as Peter claimed, since many critics who had not exactly warmed to "Dumb and Dumber" came onboard, howling at the Farrellys' audacious vulgarity. Establishing their working method of Farrelly positioning himself at the monitor while Peter directed the actors from behind the camera, the brothers elicited first-rate performances from Woody Harrelson as a former bowling champion who bottoms out after losing his hand, Randy Quaid as an Amish prodigy he discovers and manages, and Bill Murray as a smug pro bowling champion who sports a hilarious comb-over. The Farrellys generated numerous belly laughs with jokes about prosthetic limbs, bad-teeth, unsightly women, and even spilling hot coffee on a baby, while including sight gags involving vomit. Tasteless as some of the jokes may have been, "Kingpin" marked a step up for the Farrellys in terms of comedy, despite the lackluster reception at the box office.
Taking gross-out jokes to a whole new level in There's Something About Mary (1998), the Farrelly Brothers made their most successful comedy, delivering some truly outrageous gags that managed not to cross the line too far. From the opening flashback sequence where nebbish high schooler Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller), nervous about his prom date with his dream girl (Cameron Diaz), gets his private parts caught in a zipper, the Farrellys had audiences eating from the palm of their hands. Having relentlessly milked that gag for every drop of humor imaginable, they proceeded to push the boundaries in numerous sequences involving the handicapped, while lampooning gay sex and serial murder. Not to mention Matt Dillon's ludicrous overbite and two memorable scenes with a dog, where Dillon's smarmy character resuscitates it with a pair of wires. Perhaps best of all was the seminal film moment when Stiller answers the door with an egregious gob of ejaculate hanging from his ear and Diaz mistakes it for styling mousse. Because the Farrellys managed to appeal both to 16-year-old males and women of all ages, "There's Something About Mary" was a hit with critics and took in almost $370 million worldwide.
For Outside Providence (1999), which they adapted from Peter's 1988 novel, the Farrelly Brothers stayed behind the scenes as producers, turning the reins over to fellow Rhode Islander Michael Corrente. Starring Shawn Hatosy, Amy Smart and Alec Baldwin, the coming-of-age story set during the 1970s sorely lacked the Farrellys' trademark zaniness, leading to a poor box office showing. The brothers stepped back behind the cameras for Me, Myself and Irene (2000), reuniting with the zany Jim Carrey, who played a good-natured Rhode Island state trooper with split personality disorder who finds himself competing for the love of a woman (Renee Zellweger). While definitely maintaining their claim as the masters of the low brow, The Farrellys' reunion with Carrey was merely amusing and lacked the magic of their initial collaboration. Meanwhile, they directed the animated sequences in Osmosis Jones (2001), which followed the adventures of anthropomorphic germs and microbes inside the body of an ailing Bill Murray. Neither the appeal of Murray and the Farrelly Brothers, nor the combination of live action and animation generated much interest. They followed with Shallow Hal (2001), which cast Jack Black as a middle-aged cad who can suddenly only see the beautiful person inside of his obese girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow). Neither particularly funny nor especially offensive, the wan comedy failed to click on any level.
Faring slightly better was Stuck on You (2003), with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear cleverly cast as a set of conjoined twins. But that film's underperformance at the box office suggested that the novelty of the Farrellys' brand of comedy may have finally grown stale. That notion failed to last long, as the siblings rebounded strongly when they set aside a lot of the slapstick and gross-out jokes and directed the warm romantic comedy, Fever Pitch (2005). Based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name, the picture cast Drew Barrymore as a corporate climber whose idyllic romance with a sweet-natured school teacher (Jimmy Fallon) is threatened by his obsessive devotion to the Boston Red Sox. The film proved to be an appealing date film, though box office totals failed to come close to their biggest successes. They returned to their gross-out roots for The Heartbreak Kid (2007), with starred Ben Stiller as a man newly married to the seemingly perfect woman (Malin Akerman), only to discover her annoying habits post-nuptials while meeting another more attractive woman (Michelle Monaghan). Despite the negative reviews from critics, the movie fared well enough, earning over $125 million worldwide. The Farrellys stepped into producer roles for National Lampoon's Bag Boy (2008) before directing Hall Pass (2011), a comedy about two best friends (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) who are given a week-long break from their marriages and commitment to fidelity in order to do whatever they want.