Raising Arizona (1987) – The Coen Brothers (Dir.), Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Frances McDormand
Aaaaaaaaand we’re back. I’m sure you’re all sick of my incessant posts and musings on the storied history of the less-than-consistent Batman franchise. So, like Alfred at the end of the trilogy, I have left the streets of Gotham and have returned to regular movie-watching life. However, instead of relaxing at a Venetian villa, sipping a quarter cup of mallort and boning up on my Italian periodicals, I have the mustachioed Nicholas Cage sprinting at me with diapers while being chased by a harem of rabid pooches. Yes, that is just a small snippet of what I witnessed during the runtime of the Coen Brothers baby-heist movie Raising Arizona. Holy Jesus Henrietta Christ on a Cross with Joseph, Mary and the other Joseph playing cards.
Now, I haven’t even attempted to touch any of the Coen films throughout this ordeal for one of two reasons: either a) I’ve seen it or b) those stingy assholes at Netflix are yet to make them available. I am an unabashed, slobbering, squealing Coen Brothers obsessive. I will see anything they make. Well, almost anything (Intolerable Cruelty, anyone?). And even their turds smell like fucking roses. These boys are two of the darkest, funniest mutherfuckers to ever grace the silver screen. Also, they created the Dude. All hail. I have seen and loved: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man and True Grit. I am yet to see Blood Simple, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller’s Crossing (I attempted once at about 1 in the morning. Pro Tip: never watch anything with Gabriel Byrne after 11pm unless it’s the criminally underrated Ghost Ship. Did I say ‘criminally underrated’? I meant ‘abortion’.) and anything else they make ever. Netflix, you’ve been warned. Make them available now or else I will murder a box of Australian Red Licorice every day until you do. Maybe a box and a half, depending on my mood. So, that being said, it may startle and/or appall you and/or make you take off your sunglasses and declare to the heavens ‘Dear God’, but I had never seen Raising Arizona. To everyone who has seen it: holy pill-popping, monkey-loving Christ. To those who haven’t: Dear Willy-Wagging Jesus. It is one of the most cracked out, yet witty black comedies I have ever had the pleasure to witness.
This little gem of pure insanity is about H.I. McDunnough (pronounced ‘hi’), a simple fellow who tends to rob convenience stores with an unloaded pistol and spots a follicle pattern on his head-region similar to the hellish spawn of Freddie Mercury and David Lee Roth. In other words: he’s Nicholas Cage. He falls in love, in true Coen fashion, with the lady-cop, Ed, who takes his mug shots every time he’s arrested. She’s got a lisp, is batshit insane and needs a baby to make her happy. Basically…she’s Holly ‘Coolest Badass Lady Ever’ Hunter. Anyone who doesn’t know Holly Hunter must rent Danny ‘The Olympics Made Me Shit My Pants’ Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary right now because she and Delroy Lindo play a pair of assassin angels whose only goal is to get Ewan MacGregor and Cameron Diaz to fall in love. It’s not very good, but it’s amazing. Anyhoo, they want kids, but she’s barren. So, they do the only logical thing: they steal a baby from a rich family with quintuplets. Also, John Goodman with horrifying facial hair and the crabby cop from The Rock escape from prison and live in their house. It’s 90 minutes of pure Nic Cage bliss. We have baby-stealing, an extended chase scene through multiple houses and supermarkets with flagrant suburban violence and a horde of barking dogs (also, a handful of Huggies), the most awkward fight scene you’ll ever see in a bungalow and a grungy vigilante who throws grenades at bunnies. There isn’t the slightest hint of sanity on display here. And it’s wonderful. Perhaps the strangest of the sequences takes place during the initial infant-heist. While the parents are downstairs reading, Nicholas Cage is upstairs in the nursery picking up babies and putting them back. Then losing them. Then chasing them. Then putting them back. Then picking them up. Then almost getting caught. And then he leaves.
It was like witnessing a Three Stooges Scene as directed by Samuel Beckett. You’re aware that slapstick comedy is occurring, but it’s so piecemeal and bizarre you can’t quite wrap your head around it. In fact, the entire movie could almost be construed as a Farrelly Brother’s romp, except, you know, good. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes, I stared at the screen, drool dripping from my jaw as my brain felt as though it had been transported to a parallel dimension where Nic Cage opened it with a crowbar and then took a shit in the hypothalamus before kicking it back through the time/space continuum and back into my cranium. Is there a deeper meaning to it all? Uh…maybe? It’s the Coen Brothers. I’m sure there’s something…somewhere…or maybe they just really love shitting on stupid crazy people? They did that with Fargo, but made it into a stomach-churning tale of how far the rabbit hole can go when humans are pushed to the brink. I mean…they get the baby back to the parents. And they get off scott-free. And someone explodes. But he has the same tattoo as H.I. And there are the prophetic dreams about happiness and offspring…My head hurts.
I would like to take a moment and discuss Nicholas Cage. I am sure that this will not be the last we see of him on my journey through the finer points of modern cinema. In fact, I am so certain, I might as well cut John Travolta’s face off and stick it over mine. By the way, that’s the plot of a movie. Think about that for a second. Did you have an aneurism? Not yet? Well, watch
Ang Lee’s John Woo’s Face/Off and then you will. Nicholas Cage is a Coppola, so, no matter how many times he might defecate on the collective creative consciousness of the universe, he’s always allowed back for more. Also, because he’s Nicholas Cage. It doesn’t matter what movie, what role, what hairstyle, what eye-style (there is a ‘crazy’ spectrum based on how open his eyes are at any given moment, going from Con Air’s 1 to Face/Off’s 10 and then Bad Lieutenant’s 19), he is always the most enjoyable thing on screen. Is he good? Ask Season of the Witch (that’s a resounding ‘ yes‘ ‘what the fucking fuck just happened to my brain?). Here, he’s still in his young Valley Girl/Leaving Las Vegas, nubile period. His comedy is moderately restrained, his scenic presence is subdued and if your child watched him talk, they wouldn’t ask ‘Why does that man look like an exploding peach with a mullet?’ In fact, it’s a wonderful counterpoint to Holly Hunter’s impersonation of what would happen if the virus in Contagionwas actually the far more dangerous ‘Baby Fever’. You feel for the guy, though you understand that his mentally-deficient character is the poster child for why modern eugenics might not be the worst idea (kidding).
To the average movie viewer, who loves to cram handfuls of buttered/baconed (that’s right, bacon is now a verb, mutherfucker) popcorn into their gobs while witnessing giant robots beat the shit out of each other in 3D, Coen Brothers’ movies are weird. You know what? Those sad, carb-filled monstrosities (i.e. everyone) are right. They are weird. Over the course of their careers they have opened the doors to the oddest subsections of humanity, all folded between the cracks of every day life. Their writing has a sinister quality to it, rarely glorifying its subjects but rather mercilessly and mirthfully ridiculing the ever-loving shit out of them. Even in a movie like Fargo, where you care desperately about the extremely pregnant Frances ‘Awesome Sauce’ McDormand…they still have extended scenes of her just saying ‘oh ya’ over and over again. I can’t tell if they hate all of humanity or love it. On the one hand you have the devastating and enthralling No Country For Old Men and it’s labyrinthine exploration of what it means to be a man in the modern-day west (maybe that’s what it’s about…I was thinking about it for weeks) and on the other you have the epically nihilistic retelling of the Job parable that is A Serious Man.Perhaps the Coen brothers are what would occur if Hannibal Lecter made movies. Simultaneously curious as to the intricacies of existence and yet entirely flippant about its subjects. It’s as though humans are fruit flies and they are the scientists overseeing their interactions. The outcome is important to observe yet they are unaffected by death and pain. It’s all just data points.
In any case, I will slurp up anything those crazy gentlemen choose to eject into the film-verse. They’re two of the most talented, darkly-hilarious men armed with a camera to waltz through the hell-scape that is today’s Hollywood. I will see everything. I will laugh. I will squirm. I will scratch my head. And I will enjoy myself. Even if it does make me feel dead inside.
And now: a montage of Nicholas Cage’s hair through the years. You’re welcome.