“Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.”
I think that Ethan and Joel Coen are two of the greatest living filmmakers. The way these guys can take a genre, and they’ve hit quite a few of them, and twist it in some way for some curveball effect is really impressive. They make bold films, almost always out of their comfort zone in terms of subject matter, and they have an impressive understanding of the cinematic art. If you watch a Coen brothers movie, take notice of how much information is conveyed in a single shot. They are some of the best visual storytellers in the business right now, and a Coen brothers film is always an entertaining time. I think they get discounted a lot because they stray away from epics and their sense of comedy isn’t the most accessible, but they are some of the most innovative and playful directors making movies right now. I think The Big Lebowski is one of the biggest misses from the 1001 List All of this being said, Raising Arizona is pretty good. It’s probably among their worst, but it’s pretty good.
It’s important to note that Raising Arizona was made in 1987, only the second Coen brothers movie they’re credited for directing, and they hadn’t perfected their craft just yet. It’s essentially a farce. Herbert I. McDunnough, or simply “Hi”, (played by Nicolas Cage) is a convenience store robber fresh out of prison after several incarcerations. He decides to get his life together and marry police officer Ed (Holly Hunter). The two discover that Ed is infertile, and they decide to steal a baby in order to become a proper family. Their target is wealthy furniture salesman Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), who has just become the father of quintuplets. After stealing the baby, the film follows a comedic sequence of events in which Arizona attempts to get his baby back while Ed and Hi overcome the struggles of parenting. John Goodman and William Forsythe also make noteworthy appearances as the Snoats brothers, friends of Hi who crash on his couch and escalate the conflict to a boiling point when they’re finally told to leave.
The thing about Raising Arizona is that it’s unquestionably over the top. Nicolas Cage does a silly accent while playing an obliviously idiotic character among a cast of equally clueless stooges. The Coens have a clear understanding of farce, using physical comedy and silly circumstances to draw their laughs from the audience. The humor of the film comes from the size of its caricatures and the absurdity of their antics, and for the movie that it’s trying to be, it does a fine job. Raising Arizona is a textbook example of well executed farce. However, one simply can’t help but compare the film to later works by the Coens which work off a smarter, more subversive plot. You also see less of the cinematic talent in this movie. It’s there, and it’s still stronger than a lot of similar films, but there are far less of the creative shots and unique uses of sound and visuals we’ve come to expect from the Coens in 2016.
I found the funniest thing about the film to be Nicolas Cage himself, primarily because he’s playing a well-suited character for his style of acting. Cage is often mocked for his presentational method of playing a character, but Raising Arizona allows him to be as absurd and distant from reality as he wants. I think Cage should have taken on more roles of the same type instead of trying to play this Hollywood superstar. He actually does a really fine job playing the buffoon, and I’m of the opinion that Cage is more of a character actor. He’s also accompanied by some other fine performers who are well on board with the style of the film. It’s neat to see John Goodman in such an early collaboration with the Coens, and his later work really shows how he’s grown as an actor. He does decent work in the film, but he definitely becomes more grounded and gives off a stronger presence as his career progresses. Not just any cast could pull off Raising Arizona, and the Coens do exceptional directing with the strong talent they have.
I don’t mean to suggest that Raising Arizona is a bad film by any means, but farcical humor is just not as interesting to me as some newer styles of comedy. It’s a fun movie with a smart direction, but the story itself isn’t very smart. The laughs are cheap, most often stemming from Cage’s silly voice or some character doing something stupid, and the plot never really amounts to anything exciting. It’s still a fun time, though, and if you’re just looking for a fun 90 minutes to kill, you might consider giving it a watch.
Films Left to Watch: 924