|RAISING ARIZONA (1987)|
Lynn Dumin Kitei
|"I'll be taking these Huggies and whatever cash ya got."|
|Time: 94 mins.|
RAISING ARIZONA is one of the reasons why I love the Coen brothers. I'm not a huge fan of all their films, I prefer their comedies, but they are two of the film industries most brilliant creators. They have a sense of humor and visual style rarely found onscreen today. Their films may be somewhat twisted, but they're always original, well-acted and uniquely directed. This film is a comedy classic with amazing performances by Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter. They play a newly married couple who just wants to start a family. Their desperation drives them to commit a horrible crime in the name of parental love.
In the longest, and funniest film intro I've ever seen, we learn about how Hi (Cage) and Edwina (Hunter) meet (he's a convicted felon, she's a police officer), fall in love and eventually marry. They want to have a perfect family and try to get pregnant, but it turns out that Ed is barren. With adoption out of the picture due to Hi's criminal past, their dream seems shattered, leaving Ed inconsolable. All this happens before the credits roll, so you know you're in for a bumpy ride.
The rest of the film has Hi returning to his criminal past (he used to rob convenience stores with an unloaded gun) in order to get his wife a baby. When a local family, the Arizonas, has quintuplets, the couple decides to help ease their burden and kidnaps one of the boys to raise as their own. With the baby in her arms, all becomes right with the world for Edwina. Hi is a little freaked out by his sudden fatherhood. Though the initial joy is wonderful, things begin to get seriously complicated. Edwina wants them to be the perfect family, to live as law-abiding citizens, but that's not meant to be. Life conspires against their happiness at every turn and eventually Hi is right back where he started robbing convenience stores. His reasons are different now, he's only stealing to get food and diapers for the baby, but it makes Edwina realize that he will never change and that her dream will never be realized.
The film is a roller coaster ride of emotions with little Nathan Jr. at the eye of the storm. He's a precious bundle of joy that everyone wants for themselves (putting in one of the cutest performances by a kid ever). The hijinks that ensue as everyone tries to keep or gain possession of him are hilarious and fast-paced. Whether for love or money, he's the most sought after creature in this small Arizona town. In the end, he winds up exactly where he's supposed to be in the arms of his real mother. Hi and Edwina realize, from their brief stint as parents, that parenthood is a responsibility not to be undertaken lightly. They struggle with whether they should even stay together after this debacle. The film leaves their future together fairly open-ended. I prefer to think that they live happily ever after.
One of the great things about the Coen brothers is their innate ability to cast the right people in the right roles. Cage gives one of his best performances as a man just trying to do the right thing, completely overwhelmed by life and the choices thrust upon him. From his body language to his flyaway hair, you just know he's in way over his head. Hunter is wonderfully funny as the scrappy, baby-hungry Ed, a woman willing to do anything to be a mother. Her ferocity gives the film its heart and provides many of the funniest moments. The supporting cast is wonderful as well, especially John Goodman and William Forsythe as two of Hi's old prison buddies, recently escaped, who fall under Nathan Jr's spell. It's hard to pull off being a semi-intelligent hick, but they do it with down home charm and immense humor.
The script, dialogue and camera work are also first-rate. Like most Coen Bros. films there's an unusual and somewhat useless subplot that doesn't exactly gel with the rest of the story, but in the case of this film it doesn't drastically hurt it either. It's mostly bizarre, added as if the film was too mainstream for its creators. RAISING ARIZONA is certainly the most light-hearted film of the Coen's repertoire, making this quirky tale a joy to watch over and over again.