A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

A Fish Called Wanda

September 22, 2010

A Fish Called Wanda

We put this in tonight because of Kevin Kline. Having so recently watched his Pirates of Penzance we very much wanted more crazy Kline humor. But when I first saw this movie I didn’t know who Kevin Kline was. Or Jamie Lee Curtis. (Yes, the woman from the yogurt commercials used to make movies back in the eighties and nineties.) I watched this for John Cleese and Michael Palin. It is the best thing they have done since the days of Monty Python.

This movie is a comedy heist film. I was going to say that it is a comedy based on heist films, but that’s not altogether accurate. It’s a serious movie about a jewel heist and the complete lack of honor among thieves, and it sort of has romance parts. There’s peril, mayhem and even murder, of a sort. It takes itself seriously and is never a spoof. Which makes it all the more hilarious. Amanda could tell you more about the types of comedy it employs. (She took a course in college you see.) It uses the rule of threes. It has quite painful comedy of embarrassment parts. It has the insane over-acting, physical humor and general clowning about of Kevin Kline. It has vulgarity and nudity. The whole thing is wonderfully written and acted.

What chiefly grabs me as I watch this for the umpteenth time tonight is how well plotted it is. It’s got betrayals and back-stabbings and plot twists, but it all flows so effortlessly from point to point. The movie starts with a jewel heist. Georges is the brains, his mate Ken does most of the work, Wanda is his moll and acts as getaway driver, and Otto is the muscle. No sooner have they escaped with the jewels and locked them up than the betrayals begin. Otto and Wanda turn Georges in for the robbery, but not before he manages to move the stolen loot to a location known only to him.

For the most part the action follows Wanda. She’s a femme fatal type who uses her sexuality to twist every man in the movie around her finger and ultimately she’s the one with the most devious plans. From the start she’s been sleeping with both Georges and Otto (though she claims to the rest of the crew that Otto is her brother.) Then she starts to seduce Georges’ lawyer Archie in the hope that he’ll find out where the jewels are and reveal the location to her. But Archie is so disarmingly honest and so completely unlike everybody else she has to deal with that she finds herself falling for him. Or at least that’s how it appears.

John Cleese wrote the screenplay and plays Archie Leach. It’s great to see him playing the straight man most of the time. He doesn’t have the kind of crazy antics that he used to on Monty Python or Fawlty Towers. He’s just a downtrodden man trapped in a loveless marriage with a spoiled daughter (played by John Cleese’s actual daughter I believe.) When the beautiful Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) throws herself at him he becomes completely besotted. It’s very much a midlife crisis thing. He also gives himself some of the best speeches. He gives a lengthy and wonderfully worded apology at one point, and he has a heartfelt monologue about how awful it is to be British and always be terrified of being embarrassed by the slightest thing – after which of course he is subjected to the most humiliating scene in almost any movie ever.

Ken is played brilliantly by Michael Palin. The character is afflicted by a horrible stutter, which Palin captures wonderfully. Stutters on film are often so poorly done. So clearly scripted. The way that Palin presents Ken as so frustrated by his own inability to communicate is wonderful. It’s never stated outright, it’s just in the performance, in the expressions. Ken is a sympathetic and uncomplicated fellow who would rather simply be with his fishes than mixed up with all these people. He’s an animal lover, you see, and doesn’t much care for humans. (You do have to wonder how he got sucked into this scheme. I suppose he just likes to do stuff for Georges.)

Jamie Lee Curtis plays Wanda as a very canny and intelligent woman. You can practically see the gears turning in her head as she works schemes within schemes. It must have been fun to have such a character to play. She’s a seductress, but a clever one and also an actress herself. When she first spies Archie she pulls out a pair of glasses and pulls off her earrings and transforms from a mobsters moll to an American law student in just seconds. She never seems to be at a loss for what to do and adapts to every twist with lightning speed.

Then there’s Otto. Oh, Otto. He’s just the dumb weapons expert and safe cracker, but don’t call him stupid! Kevin Kline delivers such a completely amazing performance that he easily steals every scene he’s in. The character is such a buffoon and the way that Kline portrays him is so wonderful that you find yourself looking forward eagerly to his next appearance on screen. He, too, gets a memorable apology scene. He has an overblown sex scene that is inter-cut with shots of Archie and his wife preparing for bed. It’s fantastic physical comedy. He even has a running-gag style catchphrase – which is not to be quoted in a family friendly blog but is nonetheless useful in my day-to-day life. Particularly when driving.

I am not surprised to note that Kevin Kline won a best supporting actor Oscar for this role. It’s memorable, hilarious and fun. And as I mentioned it was the whole reason we put this movie in to watch tonight in the first place.

September 22, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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