Thursday, November 28, 2013

Review: A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of the day, I've picked out a great movie to watch if you don't want to fight the Black Friday crowds tomorrow.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

A Fish Called Wanda is one of the funniest damn movies I've ever seen. Coming from the comedic mind of John Cleese and starring him and his fellow Monty Python alum Michael Palin alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, this is a masterpiece of black comedy that deserves its reputation as a modern classic. The laughs are huge, the characters are fun, the story is smart, and it is just a damn good time that belongs in the collection of any film lover.

The film is about a quartet of bank robbers in London, the Americans Wanda and Otto (Curtis and Kline) and the Brits Ken and George (Palin and Tom Georgeson). Wanda and Otto decide to double-cross George and make off with a bigger share of the money from their latest heist, only to find that they need George to find the diamonds after he moved them for safe-keeping. To locate the diamonds, Wanda gets close to George's attorney, the stuffy British gentleman Archie (Cleese), producing jealousy in her boyfriend Otto as he notices that the two are getting a lot closer than he'd like. On the side, Ben plots, with great difficulty, to murder an old lady who had been a witness to their getaway. Even if this film were a straight crime drama, the story here would have still made for some intense viewing, with both the disintegration of the gang and the love triangle between Wanda, Archie, and Otto consistently leaving me guessing as to how the film would play out, ultimately wrapping up in a way that left a big fat smile on my face. Curtis and Cleese are both lively and engaging, with Cleese playing his uptight Britishness to the point of parody and Curtis pulling off a difficult trick -- fake bad acting in the scenes where her character's clearly lying, followed by a great, sexy performance when Wanda is being her normal self. Palin is lovable as the stuttering, socially inept doofus of the group, the owner of the titular fish, who he regards (along with his other fish) as a closer friend than his human partners in crime. Last but certainly not least, Kline's jealousy and attitude as Otto make it clear why he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work here. It is the mark of a truly great comedy when the story could stand on its own even without the laughs, and so it is here.

That said, A Fish Called Wanda is still a comedy first and foremost, and with that, it wears its Monty Python pedigree on its sleeve. This isn't a mile-a-minute gag fest, but when the laughs come, they come in strong, fast, and hard, and what's more, they always serve the story rather than act as random non-sequitors. There are jokes about sex, jokes about trying to kill someone, jokes about stupidity, jokes about naked people, and everything you'd expect from a great Python sketch, and while the humor is frequently dark, it's never flat-out wrong, and it's always as smart as the story is. When this film is done, you'll have a hernia from laughing so hard.

Score: 5 out of 5

I'm gonna keep this short and just tell you to buy this movie already. You'll thank me later.

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