2003 has been a year of drastic style changes. Both Ang Lee and Jane Campion have gone against type and directed a superhero film and a serial killer flick respectively. However, the most extreme of all direction shifts is probably that of the Coen Brothers. Typically known for small scale quirky films like Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou, their latest is a mainstream romantic comedy.
George Clooney stars as Mike Massey, a successful divorce attorney who has reached a nadir in his life and is desperately seeking a new challenge. Enter Marilyn Rexroth, (Catherine Zeta Jones), who is up against Massey in court as he represents her soon to be ex-husband. Even though he wins the case, he continues an odd battle of the sexes with Marilyn which leads to “unexpected” results.
Now, it’s easy to see on reflection what attracted the Coens to such a traditional genre. They attempt to recapture the essence of classic 40s screwball comedy and with their lead in Clooney they manage to partially succeed. He delivers a solid performance and has an ease with physical comedy. Yet he is the rare positive in what is otherwise a highly disappointing film.
Potentially, this could have been a darkly funny assault on what we usually expect to be a light and fluffy genre. Instead, the film is played for more broad comedy and when I say broad, I mean really broad. Some of the “comic” moments wouldn’t seem out of place in a kids film. This is a shame as none of the intelligence of their earlier work is seen here.
The film ambles along in an increasingly haphazard manner. The plot is highly predictable and the later scenes become exceedingly ridiculous. There are unbelievable character shifts and silly plot twists. Worst of all, there’s even a lack of visual inventiveness, which is usually a factor instantly recognisable in a Coen Bros film. For their diehard fans, I imagine Intolerable Cruelty would be akin to selling their souls to the devil.
It already has a loyal fan base who must seem to get a joke that I missed and it made most of the crowd laugh but for me, the title proved an apt description of the experience. If made by smaller directors, on a smaller budget with a less starry cast, this would have probably limped straight onto the bottom shelf of your local video store. On the big screen though, it’s bloated, incredibly unfunny and highly disappointing.