Wednesday, December 23, 2015
(March 1987, U.S.)
The Coen Brothers' debut film BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) is one of my favorite films of the 1980s. RAISING ARIZONA, an outrageous black comedy is probably the last thing I would have expected as a follow up. It just seemed so far off the course from what I could make of them as film makers at the time. Yet, this film is consistent in its manner typical of traditional Coen Brothers fare, as it's well supplied with unconventional characters, idiosyncratic dialogue, visual gags, symbolism, flamboyant camera work, pathos and biblical references. But even if none of that sparks your general cinematic interests, it's just plain, fucking funny as hell, and it starts from the moment we start listening to the voice over narration of Nicholas Cage as "H.I." McDunnough.
Even before the opening credits start rolling, we practically know H.I.'s entire life story and how he came to meet and marry police officer Ed (short for Edwina and played by Holly Hunter)) when he was repeatedly sent back to the county lock up after many failed convenient store robbery attempts. These are not classy people, by a long shot! Let's be honest - H.I. and Ed are just about as roughneck redneck and as trailer trash as you could ever come to expect. Still, they're "people" who want to live a normal life within the boundaries of the law and who also (most of all) want to be parents, but can't because Ed's insides are "a rocky place", where H.I.'s "seed would find no purchase". In case that's not clear enough to those of you who don't get that sort of humor...she can't have children. Biology and the prejudices of others seek to keep them childless. Solution? Steal one of the newborn "Arizona Quints" because it would seem the new parents have more babies than they can handle. From the moment the two of them bring little Nathan Jr. to their home, the comedy of these two morons actually trying to be effective parents is funny in itself. They are loving, though, and it's their love in protecting their new child from those that would seek to harm them that inevitably takes over the comedic elements of the film from here on. We must remember, that loving people or not, these two are now fugitives from the law and H.I. is still a man tempted by the financial possibilities of crime. When he unexpectedly decides to rob a convenience story while his wife (unknowing of his actions inside) and child are in the car, there's a rather sick irony in watching a man commit a crime with a gun while still remembering to pick up a large pack of Huggies for his baby. His line to the clerk, "I'll be taking these Huggies and...whatever cash you got." is worth the ninety-four minutes of your time right there. And if that's not sufficient enough, you'll love it when Nathan's father is asked to describe his baby's pajamas at the time of the kidnapping and he replies, "I don't know, they were jammies! They had Yodas 'n' shit on 'em!" You see - it's little things like that coming from the mouth of rednecks and trailer trash that just make you want to split a gut with laughter (at least that's how it is for me!).
One could argue that RAISING ARIZONA seeks to achieve a more upbeat and optimistic tone than the darker, more violent film that preceded it. We may spend our time feeling a sympathetic connection for two (admittedly) low life people who just want to offer love to a baby, but in the end, it would seem that righteous acts take over as H.I. and Ed not only save little Nathan Jr.'s life from two escaped cons and a sick-ass bounty hunter who looks like he just stepped out of THE ROAD WARRIOR, but also return the baby to his rightful place at home with his parents. Optimism rings true, even when it's somewhat unrealistic. Upon returning the baby, the father (Nathan Arizona Sr.) is apparently not angered or given to revenge upon learning who took his child. He not only forgives them for their crime, but even gently advises them not to make the serious mistake of splitting up their marriage. Like I said, it's not very realistic or even believable, but when we're dealing with outrageous black comedy, particularly from the Coen Brothers, reality ain't exactly the first priority on our minds.
Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter as H.I. and Ed are, perhaps, the most rambunctious characters I've ever seen outside of a Zucker comedy (AIRPLANE!, NAKED GUN, etc.). Cage has always shown himself to be an offbeat type, but it's in this film that he deliberately takes it to the maximum because he seems to know that's just what the film demands of him. We watch RAISING ARIZONA to laugh our asses off, and we do, but we can't ignore the look of the film, either, in that it's beautifully photographed in a way that may be actually be reminiscent of legendary director John Ford and perhaps even a prerequisite to photography we would see again in the Coen Brothers' film NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Parole Board chairman: "They've got a name for people like you H.I. That name is called "recidivism."
Parole Board member: "Repeat offender!"
Parole Board chairman: "Not a pretty name, is it H.I.?"
H.I. McDunnough: "No, sir. That's one bonehead name, but that ain't me any more."
Parole Board chairman: "You're not just telling us what we want to hear?"
H.I.: "No, sir, no way."
Parole Board member: "'Cause we just want to hear the truth."
H.I.: "Well, then I guess I am telling you what you want to hear."
Parole Board chairman: "Boy, didn't we just tell you not to do that?"
H.I.: "Yes, sir."
Parole Board chairman: "Okay, then."