A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Thirteen - A Fish Called Wanda

“I love robbing the English. They’re so polite.”

Today we discuss farce. An over the top sort of silly humor that involves heavy physical comedy, wacky circumstances, and slapstick violence, farce has been a standard form of comedy for hundreds of years. Personally, I think it’s pretty boring.

A Fish Called Wanda is about a group of American robbers who pull off a diamond heist in England. What follows is a comedy of errors as they all try to push each other out of the earnings and find themselves in exaggerated circumstances. A lot of big names make an appearance including John Cleese and Michael Palin of Monty Python along with Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline to round out an ensemble cast.

This movie has received a lot of acclaim for its humor, so I will begin by giving it credit for its success. I assume my opinion here is of the minority. However, I find the movie to be ultimately dull and uninteresting. Farce such as this typically contains unlikable characters to begin with. There isn’t much redeeming about any of the crew except for Michael Palin’s character who is constantly ridiculed for his stutter and love of fish. This may be why Palin is the only performance in the film I thought was noteworthy, because his character was someone to root for. Alas, most of the film got tied up in boring romantic plot cliches as the other characters bounced around from place to place doing silly things.

The film really puts a lot of hope into a few recurring jokes, such as Kevin Kline’s character flipping out whenever someone calls him stupid, a bit which is about as funny as it sounds on paper. Perhaps what dragged on the most for me, though, were all the scenes where Jamie Lee Curtis is attempting to seduce John Cleese with comedic effect. I think John Cleese’s talent as a comic actor really went to waste in such a dry role. He gets a few crummy jokes and really doesn’t get to play around with the part at all.

Another department in which farce can fail miserably is in tone. If you are going to make a movie in which wacky circumstances occur and you abandon three-dimensional characters, which is a fine strategy that has worked for many films such as Airplane, then you can’t try and jam some emotional narrative into the script to tie everything up. Jamie Lee Curtis ending up with John Cleese on the airplane was about the most contrived, boring ending this film could have gone with. I personally would have enjoyed it more if Michael Palin went around and ran over all the other characters with that steamroller. It certainly would give closure to the only character I cared about.

Clearly, the comedic vision for this film just didn’t settle with me. I think slapstick goofy humor just too often comes off as cliche and boring. Many have praised the film for its smart script and direction, but I would argue that the movie isn’t smart at all. Shakespeare was working with the same plot to better effect. The acting is fine, but I personally didn’t buy into this film. There’s nothing to care about. It’s just a bunch of running around, but it acts by the end as if the film was about more than that.

For those interested in a farce that works, I would suggest films such as Noises Off or The Pink Panther series. It is also noteworthy that farces really aren’t seen in much film anymore, with comedy moving in a few different directions but mostly just away from old school slapstick humor. That could be a reason I didn’t get into the film. Maybe I’m from a newer time. These things riddled the 80s and 90s, so perhaps they just don’t hold up anymore. It’s worth looking into, but for now I’ll just say I didn’t like the film and we can move on from there.


Films Left to Watch: 988

About Travis

I'm a software engineer reviewing a bunch of movies. https://travisryanfilm.com/
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