Fun with Dick and Jane (1977)

Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) (250)Synopsis: See Dick and Jane lose everything. See Dick and Jane steal it back!

George Segal and Jane Fonda star in this hilarious send-up of upper middle class mores and the price people are willing to pay to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Just as they’re putting in a new pool at the house that has sunk them deep into debt. Housewife Jane isn’t too worried at first, figuring she’ll go to work and they’ll tighten their belts for awhile, but it quickly becomes apparent that Dick’s unemployment isn’t going to go very far, and she isn’t really good at anything besides spending. So when Jane inadvertently gets away with stealing $2,000, the entrepreneurial spirit takes over and the two come up with a new solution: they’ll steal the money they need to live on. There’s one thing they didn’t count on: being a robber is hard work!

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Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) 7.25

eyelights: Jane Fonda. the basic premise. the third act.
eyesores: the subdued laughs.

“Someone’s robbing the phone company. Bless you.”

‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ is a motion picture starring George Segal and Jane Fonda as a once-wealthy couple who find themselves in financial ruin and are forced to turn to crime to pay their bills. The title is a spoof on the old series of children’s books that featured the characters of Dick and Jane.

These books were intended to teach children to read, but they also represented a certain type of role model, rooted heavily in traditional American values. In essence, the movie pokes fun at this model by highlighting how unsustainable the so-called “American Dream” is and how quickly it can vanish.

It also takes a few stabs at North American social conventions and pretenses as well as some of its icons, allowing Dick and Jane to give them (such as a money-focused Evangelist) their comeuppance. It isn’t overtly critical but it’s clear that there is a point that the filmmakers wanted to make.

The picture is a comedy, perhaps even a satire, but it’s a brand of humour that is more subtle than that of modern pictures: there are no obvious one-liners, no sight gags, no physical comedy, …etc. If anything ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ gets its laughs from situational or observational humour.

This is not at all atypical of comedies from that era, which (to me, at least), have a pleasant vibe but are hardly a laugh a minute. The most clever ones were dialogue-based, like the many Neil Simon ones, and the zanier ones like ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ or ‘Airplane!‘ were rare.

‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ is exactly that: fun, but not gut-busting. It also isn’t nearly as clever as the best of Simon’s oeuvre. Most of the humour is ironic, which demands that the audience understand its context. The few outright gags are delivered with all the subtlety of of a foam brick in the face.

The worst of it is when Jane (Fonda) takes up a part-time modeling job, after Dick gets fired, to help pay the bills, but for some reason has been given no training or instructions. She then proceeds to knocking things about and prat-falling in neither a convincing or laughable manner. It -like she- falls flat.

In the moment, I wanted to blamed Fonda because her performance was terrible in that scene, but I suspect that the problem is directorial because I immediately recalled the many times she’s done comedy successfully before. And, case in point, she was actually quite good in the rest of the picture.

George Segal, however, wasn’t exactly right for the part. Although he was good in the first few moments, playing a big shot at an aerospace agency, when it came time for his character to slum it he seemed out of place. He also played his part with little subtlety, which made the scenes less convincing.

What I liked most about the picture was that Dick and Jane, even though they initially argue about their finances when she takes charge and discovers how tenuous their situation is, are total partners: they are in this together, she even backs him up and shares the duties, doing it equally well.

Jane Fonda is quite perfect for this because she rode the second wave of feminism and has credibility in the part. Not only does she have credibility, she instinctively owns it. It’s completely natural for her to take the lead and to have some of the bright ideas – something which was rare even then.

As with many ’70s comedies, “Fun with Dick and Jane’ takes a while to rev up, but the moment they start robbing boutiques it becomes fun and exciting. There are even a few laughs to be found in those sequences. In fact, the third act is the best part of the picture – a rare feat for most movies.

So, while you don’t get an overall sense of having had as much fun as the title suggests, you do end on a high note: the characters shine in their own way, there is both suspense and laughs (albeit in subdued ways), and the outcome is satisfying. One could do worse than 90 minutes with Dick and Jane.

Date of viewing: July 3, 2015

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