Friday, December 16, 2011


(July 1988, U.S.)

Imagine that it's 1988. Imagine that you're already a big fan of Monty Python when you see the movie poster for A FISH CALLED WANDA with not only John Cleese on it, but Michael Palin, as well. Imagine your surprise when you see it and discover that it's actually Kevin Kline's character of Otto that has you in stitches. And why? Because the man is so completely irretrievably STUPID!

Rather than discuss too much, the basic plot and formula of this crime-comedy film of four quirky misfits who rob a London jeweler and then proceed to somehow screw each other over, what I really want to focus on in this post is the concept of what honestly makes many of us laugh in this film. To do that, we need to explore the concept of human stupidity and why (like it or not) it makes us laugh. It seems that in today's very-overly-political-correct world, we instantly come under social fire the moment we take any pleasure or amusement in someone else's shortcomings. Calling someone stupid today may get us uncomplimentary looks from those who may be more sensitive to other's feelings than ourselves (or myself!). But, please, let's be perfectly honest A FISH CALLED WANDA, Otto is just plain, flatout STUPID and it's admitedly what makes us laugh! Let's also face the hard fact that in life, there are some very STUPID people out there! Hell, I turn into a fucking magnet for stupid people every time I drive my car on the Long Island Expressway! And despite the fact that it may not be considered very "Emily Post" to laugh at someone with a stutter (in real life, it isn't), Michael Palin's character of Ken is impossible not to laugh at every time he stutters and every time Otto makes fun of that stutter ("It's K-K-K-Ken! C-c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me!"). Don't get me wrong - Ken has a beautiful speaking voice...when it works!

So there you have it, people. Whether it's acceptably "P.C." or not, stupid people in movies make audiences laugh. We laugh at Kevin Kline in A FISH CALLED WANDA, we laugh at Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in DUMB AND DUMBER (1994) and in real life we're very likely to laugh at the woman who is stupid enough to be driving her car while talking on her cell phone in one hand and smoking a cigarette in the other. No joke - I saw that on the road just two days ago!

To make my point final, I quote Groucho Marx in DUCK SOUP (1933)..."Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you: he really is an idiot."

Having just recently watched A FISH CALLED WANDA for this post, I couldn't help but recall a weekend I had with some friends in Westhampton Beach back in July of 1989. The film had only just been released on video and I'd managed to rent a copy for the weekend. In between the beach, the barbecues and the nightclub dancing, we all managed to watch this film (perhaps more than once). Let's just say that during the entire weekend my friend Chris was walking around sniffing his armpit just like Otto and I was walking around screaming, "I'm disappointed!" and "Don't go near him! He's mine!" just like Otto. Yes, it was one of those great Hamptons weekends with friends and girlfriends that stays with you and constantly reminds you of your long-lost youth. So it is to Chris, Beth (not my wife) and Caren that I dedicate this post to. Hope your memories are as strong as mine.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Wanda: "I was dealing with something delicate, Otto. I'm setting up a guy who's incredibly important to us, who's going to tell me where the loot is and if they're going to come and arrest you. And you come loping in like Rambo without a jockstrap and you dangle him out a fifth-floor window. Now, was that smart? Was it shrewd? Was it good tactics? Or was it stupid?"
Otto: "Don't call me stupid."
Wanda: "Oh, right! To call YOU stupid would be an insult to STUPID people! I've known sheep that could outwit you. I've worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?"
Otto: "Apes don't read philosophy."
Wanda: "Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, okay? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not "Every man for himself." And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up."

1 comment:

  1. Kline was brilliant as the stupid Otto. One of the few times a comedic part gets a deserving Academy Award. Every time he was on screen I cracked up. Fierce Creatures is a follow up with basically the same cast but a very different plot and set of characters. Not as good but entertaining for an hour and a half.