Friday, October 19, 2012

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) **

220px-A_Fish_Called_Wanda_DVD

Don’t call me stupid for not loving this 1988 comedy from director Charles Crichton (with an assist from John Cleese). Yes, it has some funny parts, but it is definitely a film I could have died without having seen (although some man in Denmark did laugh himself to death while watching it).  Perhaps it’s the decade in which it was made (the 80s) that makes it shine a little less brightly for me.  There is something about the hideous fashion and over-synthesized songs of that decade that really irks me, and when it is on full display, as it is here, it is even more distressing because it is forever imprinted (quite literally) in the annals of cinema that the 1980s sucked. 

Written by Crichton and Cleese, this comedy-heist film about four eccentric jewel thieves takes place in jolly old London.  The thieves are led by George (Tom Geoss2940483_-_john_cleese_as_archie_leach_jamie_lee_curtis_as_wanda_gershwitz_michael_palin_as_ken_pile_kevin_kline_as_otto_from_a_fish_called_wanda_poster_or_photogra__71773rgeson), a cockney gangster who picks three of the worst criminals in the world to help him pull the job: Wanda, Otto, and Ken.  His girlfriend Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a complete slut and an even bigger liar. Otto (Kevin Kline) is a pseudo-philosopher and an outright psychopath who pretends to be Wanda’s brother, but is really her jealous lover.  And, then there is Ken (Michael Palin)—a stammering animal lover with absolutely no sense.  When the heist goes awry and George is arrested, the other three scramble to tie up loose ends and engage in wacky acts of betrayal.  In the middle of all this treachery is Archie Leach (Cleese), the barrister working on George’s case who becomes ensnared in Wanda’s sleazy web of lies.  And, no, it is not a coincidence that Cleese chose to name himself after Cary Grant (the real Archie Leach)—he was born 20 miles from Grant’s birthplace and greatly admired him. 

Obviously 1988 was a weak year for the Academy Awards, specifically in the Best Supporting Actor category, because Kline won an Oscar for his turn as Otto.  To me, A Fish Called Wanda 1watching him in this was like taking a class in overacting. If anyone in the movie deserved an Oscar nod it was Palin, and even that would have been a stretch.  Of course his scenes attempting to kill Mrs. Coady (Patricia Hayes) are my favorite, so I think that might skew my point of view.  But really, he is quite hilarious as the murderer of three innocent Yorkshire Terriers.  And, when I come to think of it, the only time I found Kline entertaining was when he was doing a scene with Palin.

The story is entertaining and Cleese’s straight-man act is enjoyable, so I can’t really give A Fish Called Wanda a poor rating. Still, Kline and Curtis’ less than stellar performances are grating to me.  Yet, the wardrobe and music 7167354801_a5112a7966_bare worse.  Costume designer Hazel Pethig definitely did not benefit from what passed for fashionable in the 80s.  I wonder how much Curtis cringes every time she sees how horrid her wardrobe was.  Oh, and the music (if you can call it that) by John Du Prez is a complete representation of what was wrong about 80s music.

Overall, A Fish Called Wanda is a passable 1980s comedy.  Unfortunately, to watch it you must hear and see everything that makes the decade one of the worst of the Twentieth Century.

 

15 comments:

  1. Hi Kim! I do remember enjoying this movie (especially Palin & Kline) when it first came out. It probably falls under the category of being one of those movies you might not like so much the 2nd time around. But, hey - it was the 80s!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FC: it does not age well, but it is still funny here and there.

      Delete
  2. I remember trying to watch this movie, and really hating it. Of course, the 80's were not my favorite, for the same reasons you gave -- I really despised the disco era. I always said that disco destroyed my marriage -- kind of a simple explanation, but when your husband starts unbuttoning his polyester shirt and wearing gold chains to the club while you are diapering the babies, it's all downhill from there! LOL!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See, when I think of the disco era I think of the late 1970s and early 80s. That music was more palatable to me than what happened in the mid to late 1980s. As for the gold chains, you didn't need a man who wore those anyway!

      Delete
  3. Well, this all happened in '82, so it fits...ugh...disco...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm afraid I can't agree with you on this one. For me this is one of the funniest films ever made. To each his own. Maybe it's a gender thing, but I don't think I have ever noticed wardrobe in any film, ever, let alone had it negatively affect my enjoyment of a movie.

    As for Kline winning the Oscar, the supporting actor and actress categories are often used by the Academy to reward films that they love, but that don't fit into the stereotype of the Big Important Movie that usually gets the top awards. Some other recent examples include Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine, and Chris Cooper in Adaptation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it is a gender thing when it comes to wardrobe. For example, in a New Yorker review of Sex and City the Movie, the male reviewer couldn't get over how excited the female audience reacted when they saw the huge walk-in closet Big designed for Carrie.

      Regarding the best supporting Oscar, I've seen 99% of all the films nominated in major categories. As such, all of the films you've listed except The Dark Knight, are extreme favorites of mine and I thought all those men were more than deserving of their nods. We'll have to disagree on the film and Kline.

      Delete
    2. A clarification: I didn't mean to imply that the examples I gave were not worthy of winning; I was attempting to draw a parallel among them that the movies they had won for were not the big winners those years, even though those movies were loved by many. Sorry for the confusion.

      I never saw Sex and the City, so thanks for the example. I do remember listening to the cast commentary for Bridesmaids and all of the women were practically gasping in laughter about how one of their characters was overdressed for the party she was at. I *had* noticed she was overdressed (so much for my statement that I never notice wardrobe), but I didn't find that fact any more amusing or relevant than the fact that she was holding a drink or had brown hair.

      Delete
    3. Okay, we're all clear now! LOL!

      Delete
  5. I'm not a huge fan of this movie - seems a bit too self-indulgent to me - although I do like Palin's performance. I find it refreshing to read a review that doesn't gush about this movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One thing about me, I'm not overly-influenced by what critics say. If I don't adore a flick, I have no trouble saying so. Palin is good (Cleese is okay, too), but that's about all I liked about it.

      Delete
  6. I think all the cast worked very well together on this one. However, you may have a point of choosing Palin over Kline.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I just don't like Kline. I thoroughly enjoyed Sophie's choice, but disliked him throughout.

      Delete
  7. Oh my gosh, Kim, I love A Fish Called Wanda! But as for the movie, I enjoyed every performance -- I thought Jamie Lee Curtis was a delight, and Kevin Kline was hilarious (for several years, I had his "Asshoooole!" line as a sound on my computer), and John Cleese was appealing, and the writing was hilarious -- I just liked everything about it. I don't remember much about Jamie Lee's wardrobe, but I do recall one dress -- I think it was blue? -- the one she had on when she met Archie for the first time, that I thought was really cute. I also loved reading your review, though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tell you, it's the decade that really bothers me. LOL! However, I never was a fan of JL Curtis or Kevin Kline, so that could add to my not adoring the film.

      Delete