A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, March 25, 2016

Raising Arizona (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1987)

Raising Arizona was the Coen brothers' second movie, and they never made another quite as broadly comic as this one. Even The Big Lebowski (1998) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) seem restrained in comparison. I found that it took a little getting used to on this viewing: Everyone in it (including the baby) is a caricature, a live-action version of a Warner Bros. cartoon character. Maybe I reacted this way because I recently saw Holly Hunter in the deadly serious role of Ada in The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993) and had forgotten what a gifted farceuse she could be when she sets her tight little mouth in that determined line and barrels ahead. Nicolas Cage was still in that goofy hangdog persona he used in Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986) and only began to grow out of the next year in Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987). But the real surprise for me was Frances McDormand, going completely over the top as Dot, the scatterbrained mother of the most odious bunch of brats ever seen on film. She was at the beginning of her career as a serious actress and would follow up Raising Arizona with her first Oscar nomination for Mississippi Burning (Alan Parker, 1988), so seeing her go all loosey-goosey in this film was a revelation. It's by no means among my favorite Coen brothers movies, and watching it in the company of their best -- among which I'd put Fargo (1996), No Country for Old Men (2007), and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) -- would probably show up some of its flaws, but why would you want to do that? Sometimes silly fun is enough. At only a touch over an hour and a half, Raising Arizona doesn't hang around long enough to wear out its welcome.