Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter and John Goodman star in Ethan and Joel Coen’s acclaimed screwball love story filled with mad chases, unexpected plot twists and wild pyrotechnics. Vowing to go straight, a convenience store bandit (Cage) proposes marriage to the police department’s photographer (Hunter). All is wedded bliss until they discover she’s unable to get pregnant and are turned down by every adoption agency in town. It doesn’t take long before they realize the only solution is to kidnap one of the town’s celebrated quintuplets and hit the road!
Raising Arizona 7.75
H.I.: “We figured there was too much happiness here for just the two of us, so we figured the next logical step was to have us a critter.”
‘Raising Arizona’ is the first Coen Brothers film that I’ve ever seen. It left an impression on me because I had never seen anything quirky like this before. And because I laughed… a LOT. In fact, I thought that it was one of the wackiest things I’d ever seen – and this was in a time when I was starting to discover Monty Python. So it naturally struck a chord.
Policeman in Arizona house: “What did the pyjamas look like?”
Nathan Arizona Sr.: “I don’t know – they were jammies! They had Yodas ‘n’ shit on ’em!”
After watching a clip from it recently, while playing the original Scene it? DVD board game, I felt the need to revisit it. Of all the players, I was the only one who had seen it, and everyone reacted so favourably to the short bit that I thought it would be nice to introduce them to it. And, really, any excuse to watch a Coen comedy is a good one, isn’t it?
Hayseed in the Pickup: “Son, you got a panty on your head.”
What I’ve found is that ‘Raising Arizona’ didn’t affect me quite in the way that it had in the past. I can’t explain it. I really enjoyed it: I thought that the story was original, the dialogue was as sharp as anything, the acting was perfectly-suited for the piece and even the direction had plenty of creative flourishes.
H.I.: “Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.”
Perhaps the issue is that I’ve seen too many Coen films now. And better ones (ex: ‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘Burn After Reading’ and ‘Fargo’). Perhaps the Coens have raised the bar so high over the years that even their past selves can’t meet it. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit – they have generally improved their game over the years, have become successful enough to put together fantastic productions, and have drawn even more exceptional casts as time went on.
Reporter: “Mr. Arizona, do you have any messages for the kidnappers?”
Nathan Arizona Sr.: “Yeah: Watch your butts.”
‘Raising Arizona’, if anything, is a crystal ball glimpse into the future, teasing us with a taste for a genre that is very specific to these filmmakers and that they were still developing. In ‘Raising Arizona’, one can see the elements that make a Coen brothers comedy (not to be confused with their dramas): the colourful characters, a premise rife with absurdity, an overall sense of dementia, and mildly exaggerated angles or shots.
H.I.: “What kind of name is Ed for a pretty thing like you?”
Ed McDonnough: “Short for Edwina. Turn to the right.”
H.I.: “You’re a flower, you are. Just a little desert flower.”
The way that Nicolas Cage’s character meets Holly Hunter is a prime example of the quirkiness of the Coens: here is a guy who keeps failing at burglary and always meets up with the same cop photographer, eventually falling for her. They present their many brief encounters in such a humourous way that, even though it is completely non-sensical that they would hook up, the audience only wants to go along, wanting nothing else than to embrace the silliness of it.
H.I.: “I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn’t easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House. I dunno. They say he’s a decent man, so maybe his advisors are confused.”
It helps that Nicolas Cage is perfectly cast for this part. I’m no great fan of Cage because he tends to over-act quite a bit (‘Vampire’s Kiss’, anyone? ). Plus which he picks so many horrible movies that one can’t be bothered to wade through his career for the decent ones. Except that his goofiness works here – there is no doubt that this guy is inept, a loser, that his heart is in the right place, but that he’s too much of a morally weak individual to walk the straight line, to do right. Heck, even his horrible ‘stache, hi hair, and his clothes scream this.
Ed McDonnough: “If I’m as bad as you, what good are we? What good are we to each other? You and me’s just a fool’s paradise.”
But Cage does a fine job of it, as does Holly Hunter, who got first lead role in ‘Raising Arizona’. I didn’t become a fan of hers until ‘The Piano’, but she’s been on my radar ever since – even if I don’t like all her films, I know she’ll be great. Looking back, however, she was already smoking hot (in many senses of the word!) by the mid-’80s; she is terrific as Edwina, a woman too in love to see clearly and too desperate to care, turning her back on some of her core beliefs in the vain pursuit of an elusive dream.
Dot: “Rollie! You take that diaper off your head and you put it back on your sister!”
As is customary with Coen films, the picture is populated with a variety of offbeat individuals, from a couple of moronic escaped convicts, to a loudmouth businessman, to a dirty headhunter, to some outrageously scuzzy friends of the family. These so-called respectable friends were one of the highlights of the film, in fact; seeing their kids rampage through the motor-home, hearing the couple’s exchanges and discovering just how hopeless they were was a riot.
Ed McDonnough: “We finally go out with decent people and you break his nose. That ain’t too funny, Hi.”
H.I.: “His kids seemed to think it was funny.”
Ed McDonnough: “Well they’re just kids.”
However, although they were a memorable bunch, the film then took a sudden drop from that point onward. It wasn’t anything too dramatic, but from then on the film dragged in places and all the momentum it had gained seemed squandered. Even the finale, which was as much of a blast as it was explosive couldn’t raise ‘Arizona’ from the ditch it had gotten itself stuck in at that point.
Evelle (about the balloons he just bought): “These blow up into funny shapes and all?”
Grocer: “Well no… unless round is funny.”
Which is a real shame, because ‘Raising Arizona’ is a veritably unrelentingly nutty piece that edged close to brilliance. It is well-rendered, and it has all the makings of greatness, but I suspect that Joel and Ethan Coen had not yet fully defined their formula.
Parole Board chairman: “They’ve got a name for people like you H.I. That name is called “recidivism.”
Parole Board member: “Repeat offender!”
Parole Board chairman: “Not a pretty name, is it H.I.?”
H.I.: “No, sir. That’s one bonehead name, but that ain’t me any more.”
Parole Board chairman: “You’re not just telling us what we want to hear?”
H.I.: “No, sir, no way.”
Parole Board member: “‘Cause we just want to hear the truth.”
H.I.: “Well, then I guess I am telling you what you want to hear.”
Parole Board chairman: “Boy, didn’t we just tell you not to do that?”
H.I.: “Yes, sir.”
Parole Board chairman: “Okay, then.”
I have no doubt that, today, they would take ‘Arizona’ to heights that one can barely imagine. If anyone can, they could – ‘The Big Lebowski’ is proof positive of that. But, as it stands, ‘Raising Arizona’ is merely the blueprint for a vision and ambition that isn’t yet fully realized.
H.I.: “That night I had a dream. I dreamt I was as light as the ether- a floating spirit visiting things to come. The shades and shadows of the people in my life rassled their way way into my slumber. You tell me. This whole dream, was it wishful thinking?”