Raising Arizona (1987)

“Biology and the prejudices of others conspired to keep us childless.”

Synopsis:
When a newly married ex-con (Nicolas Cage) and ex-cop (Holly Hunter) discover that they can’t have or adopt children of their own, they kidnap a baby (T.J. Kuhn) from a local furniture tycoon (Trey Wilson) and his quintuplet-bearing wife (Lynn Dumin Kitei).

Genres:

Review:
While it’s not for every taste (Roger Ebert panned it upon its release, and it has a Metacritic score of only 55), Raising Arizona remains — in my humble opinion — a delightfully surreal and colorful comedy. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter (both early in their careers) are perfect as the desperate childless couple: Hunter’s spontaneous expression of love for her new baby boy (“I love him so much!” she sobs) is classic; and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Cage embodying “Hi” (who, as put so delightfully in Rita Kempley’s review for the Washington Post, “is a deep thinker, without the IQ to support his habit.”)

Not everything about the film works, however. Many supporting characters — most notably Randall “Tex” Cobb as a greasy Motorcyclist From Hell — are too broadly written to be amusing, and there’s an over-abundance of slapstick violence. In addition, John Goodman and William Forsythe as Hi’s escaped-convict friends — who play an essential role in the plot later on — are only intermittently entertaining, and quickly devolve into stereotype. Nonetheless, for every ho-hum scene in Raising Arizona, there’s another hilarious one just up ahead — and this, combined with our sympathy for the surprisingly likable protagonists, make the film well worth watching.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nicolas Cage in one of his best comedic roles
    Cage
  • Holly Hunter as Hi’s intensely maternal wife
    Hunter
  • Goodman and Forsythe emerging from the mud like newborn adults
    Mud
  • Cage and Hunter stopping to pick up a package of dropped Huggies during a getaway
    Huggies
  • A unique and touching premise for a comedy
    Couple
  • Many juvenile yet unexpectedly laugh-out-loud lines:
    “Son, you got a panty on yo’ head!”

Must See?
Yes. This early comedy from the Coen Brothers set the stage for their later films, and remains one of their most successful endeavors to date.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Raising Arizona (1987)”

  1. An absolute must – a comedy classic, one that feels remarkably fresh, even as it heads toward being 25 years old (!).

    I veer somewhat from the assessment given. I hadn’t seen this since its release and, needless to say, it came as much more than a pleasant surprise. It is simply marvelous filmmaking from start to finish and I just can’t find fault.

    No doubt I enjoyed it on some level when I first saw it, so I wonder why it’s taken me so long to return to it. Part of the reason could be that Cage and Hunter are not among my favorite performers (although I’ve liked them both on occasion). Another reason could be that the Coen Brothers were still rather fresh on the scene and their dark, abrasive style did not sit comfortably enough in my wittle bwain.

    Indeed, the Coens have built a very eccentric filmography together and I generally find I either love or hate something they come up with. Not quite sure if that means they’re ‘hit or miss’ or what. I wonder if that means sometimes you may have to go back for a second look or a second try.

    Going back to ‘RA’ now, I’ve gotten beyond Cage and Hunter as performers in general and was able to concentrate on their chemistry in this particular film (which is solid). They’re somehow able to take these two characters – borderline unlikable/stupid in their preposterous act of kidnapping – and slowly draw us into feeling a kind of compassion for them.

    As well, I’m obviously much more familiar with how the Coens make films – so ‘RA’ is now simultaneously less bizarre to me and just as bizarre as it ever was.

    At a mere 94 minutes, this is one jam-packed piece of entertainment; an endless series of brilliantly edited vignettes – in which there is quite a bit of screaming (often hilarious for the viewer) and violence but which nevertheless builds to something downright touching.

    And, for a film that ‘aims’ at B-movie mayhem, the writing is choice – one could watch the movie again just to listen to the jokes thrown off-handedly, or the vocabulary put into the mouths of those unlikely to use it.

    Perhaps the icing on the cake is how the Coens use actors: from what I can tell, there is not one role, down to the smallest, that doesn’t get a chance to shine (often with a joke). [One that stands out hilariously and shamelessly is Frances McDormand, in the only scene she’s given.]

    One of the hardest things for an ff to do is recommend a really good comedy when someone asks for one (as so often happens to me). This one has just entered the group that I can suggest without reservation.

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