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Friday Film Review: Raising Arizona

Raising ArizonaRaising Arizona (1987)
Genre: I can’t categorize this one. Comedy, drama, screwball?
Grade: A

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.

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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

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

20 Comments

  1. Sandy James
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 04:19:25

    This was one of those movies I didn’t like the first time I saw it, but as it popped up on cable, I gave it another chance. It grew on me. (Had the same “problem” with Fargo and Napoleon Dynamite.) Not an A, but a solid B. And Nicholas Cage. Can’t ever go wrong with Nicholas Cage. ;)

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  2. Jayne
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 05:34:16

    @Sandy James: I love his prison scenes and the cookout scene where he’s wearing those awful white loafers.

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  3. Tee
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 06:14:04

    Can’t agree with you here on this one. My entire family absolutely loved this film and continued to watch it in reruns. However, I could not stand it. Never made it to the end. I just could not get into it for one reason or another.

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  4. eva_baby
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 08:06:56

    “Her womb was a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”

    “you’re young and you got your health, what you want with a job?”

    Love this movie, so quotable and the delivery of each line is awesome.

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  5. Chicklet
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 08:39:14

    “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.”

    “You gotta get ‘em dip-tet boosters yearly or else they’ll develop lockjaw and night vision.”

    Oh man, now I have to break out the DVD so I can rewatch. “It’s short for Edwina. Turn to the raaaaht!”

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  6. Sarah
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 09:31:20

    This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I can see why it’s not for everyone, I guess. It can be confusing. On the surface is so much screwball comedy, but underlying is a bittersweet love story between HI and Ed.

    What I always got out of this movie, dressed up thickly in insanity though it is, are themes on the basic understanding of family. The whole things revolves around the poor couple trying to have a baby vs. the rich guy who has so many he shouldn’t miss one… though of course he does. It’s about the lengths people go to for the ones they love, and it’s hilarious and over the top but never (I believe) silly.

    So, yeah. I’m trying to sell it to the people who haven’t given it a chance yet, maybe put off by sub-par comedies (I personally have bias against the word “screwball”), but this movie is in a class all its own. Come to the dark side, my pretties!

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  7. Cherrie Lynn
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 10:09:06

    I love this movie so much!

    “Son, you’ve got a panty on your head.”

    “I’ll be taking these Huggies and…whatever cash ya got.” (That’s a favorite of mine and hubby’s and it’s uttered every time we buy diapers.)

    I devour just about anything the Coen Brothers produce–except Burn After Reading, just could NOT get into that one. Raising Arizona is a classic.

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  8. Julia Rachel Barrett
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 10:26:53

    My favorite Coen Brothers’ movie, my favorite Nicholas Cage movie, my favorite Holly Hunter movie. I love this movie!

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  9. Jayne
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 10:35:59

    @Sarah: I agree that it’s that underlying message about family that makes the film what it is. Without it, this would just be a wacky trip to weirdness.

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  10. Jayne
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 10:37:15

    @Julia Rachel Barrett: I love a lot of Coen movies but I think this is my favorite one too.

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  11. Janine
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 11:01:07

    I liked this movie a lot too. I think it as a B+ for me. It’s not my favorite Coen Brothers movie though — that would be “No Country for Old Men.” Not for the faint of heart but A+++.

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  12. Susanna
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 11:44:40

    I saw this movie in the theater years ago. I loved it from the first moments. It’s always a fabulous feeling when you realize you are seeing something different and fantastic. I love the slight oddness of the Coen brother’s characters, such as the sheriff in “Fargo,” the detective in “Blood Simple,” and the Dude, of course. I haven’t seen “No Country for Old Men” but I should because Tommy Lee Jones is amazing.

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  13. Janine
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 12:15:22

    @Susanna: I think “Blood Simple” is one of the ones I haven’t seen but I loved “Fargo” too.

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  14. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 12:17:34

    @Janine: I get shivers just thinking about No Country For Old Men. This one is fantastic, too, of course. Holly Hunter cracks me up. I can hear her delivering those lines–the way she says baby is a riot. And Nic Cage was so cute and quirky back then. Has anyone seen him in Valley Girl? God, I haven’t thought about that movie in ages.

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  15. wendy
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 17:02:49

    @ Jill Sorenson: I thought of Valley Girl as the first movie I saw Nicholas Cage in. It was before Raising Arizona wasn’t it?
    And yes, I loved this movie when I saw it at the movies.

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  16. Jayne
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 18:06:00

    @Susanna: I’ve seen Blood Simple once. It’s good but not quite up to what they began making after it. Unlike Raising Arizona, which as you say is so obviously going to be a totally new experience from frame one, Blood Simple is more conventional.

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  17. Jayne
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 18:30:42

    @Janine: I need to see No Country for Old Men. It’s been in my Netflix queue for ages but the high degree of negative comments about it keep me from moving it up.

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  18. Julia Rachel Barrett
    Aug 13, 2010 @ 19:56:38

    Jayne – No Country for Old Men is intense. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and there is no absurd comic relief as there is in Fargo. I don’t have a negative comment about the movie, it’s well-done and I’m a huge Tommy Lee Jones fan. It is just an intense, teeth-gritting experience.

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  19. Moira Reid
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 02:21:07

    “A dinner jacket. He was wearing his damn jammies! I don’t know–they had Yodas and shit on ‘em!”

    “That sumbitch. You tell him, I think he’s a damn fool, Ed. You tell him I said so – H.I. McDonnough. If he wants to discuss it, he knows where to find me: in the Maricopa County Maximum Security Correctional Facility For Men State Farm, Road Number 31, Tempe, Arizona! I’LL BE WAITIN’! I’ll be waitin’.”

    “We thought Junior should see their…final resting place.”

    I quoted from this movie the other day. One of my clients was sure I’d messed up their paycheck because so much had been taken out (for taxes). I couldn’t stop myself: “Gov’ment do take a bite, don’t she?”

    Fantastic movie. I really think there are two kinds of people…the kind that “get” this movie, and the ones who really don’t. Lovin’ me the ones who do…

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  20. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 07:52:56

    @Moira Reid:

    “Gov'ment do take a bite, don't she?”

    One of my favorite quotes from the movie!

    ReplyReply

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