“Attila the Hun. Ivan the Terrible. Henry the Eighth. What do they have in common?” “Middle name?”
“I’m gonna nail yo ass”
“Bitch! That’s my Daytime Television Lifetime Achievement Award!”
The opening of “Intolerable Cruelty” features Donovan Donaly (portrayed by the incomparable Geoffrey Rush) singing along to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” as he rides in his fancy jaguar convertible to his house. What he discovers at his home, which leads him to being stabbed in the ass by his own Daytime Television Lifetime Achievement Award, is one of the funniest sequences in the Coen filmography. Certainly not comparable to the “Raising Arizona” sequence when Nicholas Cage steals diapers from the grocery store and ignites a wild aftermath but hilarious nonetheless.
A movie centered around infidelity and divorce in Beverly Hills and other upscale parts of Los Angeles allow the Coens to blast us with their full sense of irony. Isn’t it ironic that couples who once claimed to love each other would try and kill (or atleast drastically ruin) each other later? Isn’t it ironic that an asymatic hitman after being sprayed in the eyes with mace would put a gun in his mouth rather then his inhaler? Isn’t it ironic that a woman would have a prominent divorce attorney write up a foolproof pre-nuptial agreement for her fiancee when we really suspect said woman is in love with the divorce attorney? Isn’t it ironic that the mentioned fiancée would eat the pre-nuptial agreement (with barbeque sauce) at his own wedding to pathetically prove his love to the woman?
The divorce attorney is Miles Massey (the 2nd Coen go around for George Clooney) and he can spin any story or set of circumstances much more convincingly than a talk radio show host. Miles is hired by Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) who has been briefly married to Marilyn (Catherine Zeta Jones). Rexroth was caught on video attempting to commit adultery by detective Gus (Cedric the Entertainer) who busts into his motel room filming and shouting, “I’m gonna nail yo ass!” When he promptly turns over the video of this encounter to Marilyn, she appears to have a strong case.
When Miles the divorce attorney meets Marilyn, he is immediately smitten. Oddly, and perhaps ironically, he invites her to dinner where he meets his match of cunningness and intelligence. The meeting begins a rather rocky road to a place where they, maybe, love each other. Maybe. She will wind her way through another fiancée (played by Billy Bob Thornton returning as a Coen player) who is the guy at his wedding that ingests the pre-nup agreement with barbeque sauce.
“Intolerable Cruelty” is the Coen Bros version of a romantic comedy. The movie is the most commercially viable film that they have done up to this point with big movie stars and somewhat of a conventional plot. However, they still showcase wild characters and their dark comedy injects certain amounts of cynicism. In other words, if this is indeed a romantic comedy, probably one of the few worth watching and I guarantee you will have some good laughs.
In saying the above, I do have to say that this is not their top tier work and not even mid tier comparably. Cedric the Entertainer, as fun of an actor as he is, gets very old in scene after scene screaming “I’m gonna nail yo ass” which happens way too much. Though some of the characters are indeed wild they are not necessarily memorable as in most of the other movies in the Coen cannon. I can summarize most of the movie by saying there are some big, big laughs followed by scenes that aren’t terrible but just above mediocrity. Another asset to the film are Clooney and Zeta Jones who will remind everyone of old time movie stars from the Hollywood golden era in this work.
If you are a Coen fan, like me, you will find some enjoyment here. If you are a fan of rom-coms, you actually may not like this too much because of the movie’s darker edges. “Intolerable Cruelty” is an interesting cocktail mix of different tones and textures.
Lester Lauding Level: 3 (out of 5)
Fargo (review here)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (review here)
The Big Lebowski (review here)
Miller’s Crossing (review here)
The Hudsucker Proxy (review here)
Raising Arizona (review here)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (review here)
Blood Simple (review here)
Barton Fink (Review here)