Friday Film Review: A Fish Called Wanda
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Genre: Romantic Crime Comedy
This film was an A for me when I first saw it and it’s only got funnier over the years. Top notch performances from almost everyone in it plus a great script yield a movie that still makes me laugh so much my sides hurt.
Georges (Tom Georgeson), Ken (Michael Palin), Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline) have planned the perfect jewel robbery. Wanda and Otto have also planned the perfect double cross, while Wanda on her own has got a triple cross up her sleeve. The only problem is that Georges moved the £13 million of diamonds before Otto made the call to the police telling them Georges did it. Georges isn’t telling anyone where the loot is so Wanda schemes to romance the information out of Georges’s barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese), unhappily married to nagging wife Wendy (Maria Aitken). There’s also the eye witness (Patricia Hayes) to be eliminated. Who will wind up with the diamonds? Who apologies to whom? Who gets eaten? And who’s on the plane to Rio as the credits role?
Cleese and Palin have a long history of being funny in Monty Python sketches but Curtis and Kline blend perfectly into the mix here. There are so many funny scenes and moments – Otto sniffing his armpit, animal lover Ken repeatedly trying to off Mrs. Coady but getting one of her obnoxious Yorkshire terriers each time, Archie dancing around while undressing at a borrowed London flat only to be confronted by a family who has rented it themselves, the juxtaposition of Archie and Wendy’s boring bedtime routines with Otto spouting Italian nonsense while he and Wanda make love, the verbal calisthenics Archie resorts to in the final courtroom showdown and of course the multiple times Otto earns the sobriquet of stupid to name only a few – that I could spend the rest of the review just trying to list them all. Even after years of watching the film, none of the jokes have gotten stale and I could easily click “play” again as soon as “FIN” appears at the end.
Kline won a well deserved Oscar for his OTT, Nietzsche-quoting, gun totting, “asshole” yelling dumb American character. Cleese is an Englishman so repressed after years with his frigid wife that Curtis hits him like a hurricane and blasts him back to life. Palin as the stuttering, animal loving hit man who leaves flowers on the graves of his doggie victims is priceless. And Curtis as a woman cheerfully out for herself who ends up falling in love and getting it all is fantastic. This truly is one of the best comedies I’ve ever watched and I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.
Wanda: [after Otto breaks in on Wanda and Archie in Archie’s flat and hangs him out the window] I was dealing with something delicate, Otto. I’m setting up a guy who’s incredibly important to us, who’s going to tell me where the loot is and if they’re going to come and arrest you. And you come loping in like Rambo without a jockstrap and you dangle him out a fifth-floor window. Now, was that smart? Was it shrewd? Was it good tactics? Or was it stupid?
Otto West: Don’t call me stupid.
Wanda: Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?
Otto West: Apes don’t read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.
God, I love this movie.