Raising Arizona (1987)
Genre: I can’t categorize this one. Comedy, drama, screwball?
My initial exposure to “Raising Arizona” was in the theater when it was first released. A friend talked me into going to it and thus I had no clue what I was getting myself into. At various parts of the movie, I still didn’t have a clue but was enjoying myself so much that I didn’t care. I doubt this film could be released as it is today, what with all the whack-job women really abducting babies – and worse. But sit back and imagine a time shortly before the horrible headlines we so often see today.
The plot is simple as this borrowed synopsis from imdb shows. “When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family’s quintuplets, their lives get more complicated than they anticipated.”
As I sat in the theater, I had no idea who most of the stars of the film were. Holly Hunter, Nicholas Gage, John Goodman had all done films before this but I’d not seen any of them so I could just sit back and watch them be these characters: The ex-cop who meets her husband in the county lockup while taking his mug shots, the repeat offender who decides to go straight – or as straight as he can – for the love of a good woman, and a prisoner who, along with his brother, decides to release himself on his own recognizance because “prison no longer has anything to offer him.” Trey Wilson is a blast as the father of the quints who never misses a chance to hawk his unpainted furniture store and who gets the law enforcement officers who are hanging around the one house in the state where his boy isn’t, told off. Cage is such a loser but I end up cheering for him anyway even as he’s running around “with a panty on his head.” Holly Hunter makes this baby snatching mother sympathetic and I love her line, “Give me that baby, you warthog from hell!”
I had also never seen a Coen brothers film so the snappy, sometimes overly formal dialogue, the descent into zany madness and the wild plot came as a delightful surprise. The Coen brothers know exactly what they want in a film and how they want the actors to deliver their lines and I have to say that it usually works beautifully. Even 23 years after its initial release, I still laugh my way through it and have watched it enough that I can start quoting dialogue.
Scenes I love: 1. The entire 11 minute opening before we finally get the beginning credits, 2. HI’s bumbling attempts to pick a baby to take, 3. The Quick Stop robbery sequence leading to a flight through a Tempe subdivision with trigger happy cops and a dog pack after HI, a highjacked truck and a lost pack of Huggies diapers, 4. The whole dip-tet immunization obsession, 5. Then the botched bank robbery with the conflicting orders to the bank patrons, leaving a man behind and the exploding dye canister, and of course 6. The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse.
But it’s not just a screwball comedy. There’s a lesson the characters learn, most especially Edwina and HI who get to take a long look at themselves and their fitness to be parents. The dream sequence at the end shows the characters getting what they all probably deserve though in the case of Ed and HI’s childlessness, the future is a bit more nebulous and open ended. The type of movies the Coens make aren’t for all tastes – in fact, I think you need to be just slightly warped to love them and if you’ve tried one in the past and it hasn’t worked for you, this one probably won’t change your mind about them.
Watch it for the actors who are wonderful in their roles, see it for the artistry of the Coens – who make the strange seem normal, laugh with it as it takes you on an almost nonstop roller coaster ride, listen for the yodeling – which IMO is the cherry on top and settle back for a movie experience unlike almost any other. A