Yodeling soundtrack. Big zooms. Hyper-emotional/hyper-stoic Holly Hunter. Nicolas Cage (nee Coppola). Characters setting events into motion they can’t predict. Crime not paying. Honesty not really paying either.
If the Coen Brothers surprised people with their versatility by following up their noir suspense drama Blood Simple with a wacky comedy, in retrospect you can see all the elements of the Coens’ oeuvre in both films, with a slight shift in tone being the difference. People even die pretty routinely in both, although it’s handled somewhat differently in the comic films.
“Why do you say you feel trapped…in a man’s body?”
Is it funny? Gosh, yes. Though, if you’d asked me which of the four films I thought was the funniest between this, The Jerk (1979), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Zoolander (2001)—all part of the “April Fools” series—I’d have said this one before rewatching it, whereas now I’d have to give it to The Jerk. With the caveat at the one’s mood can play havoc on how one receives humor and my mood may have been a bit off this day. (Although the boy concurred later on as to the comedic merits of the Martin film.)
I loved it back in the day, and I still do, though I don’t think I can rate it above O Brother, Where Art Thou and The Big Lebowski as critics have. But what I felt this time watching it was that the zooms which amused me so greatly 20 years ago had lost their novelty. As had the Coens particular style of filming people, which is sort of a self-mocking thing. (You’re close enough to both make fun of the characters and identify with them at some level.)
Well, of course, it’s not novel any more: Besides the dozen films or so the Coens have made, they’ve also been very influential. So all that’s left is the movie. The loss of novelty, of course, is a big factor in aging comedy (and horror) generally, and that may be why critics tend to rate the Coen brothers’ older films more highly. When the novelty is gone, all that’s left is the movie.
Which, make no mistake, is still very good. H.I. (Cage) and Ed (Hunter) are lovable idiots, driven by their emotions to do dumb things—though with never a real grasp on the possible implications—and, actually, with the exception of Leonard Smalls (Randall “Tex” Cobb, who doesn’t seem to do any acting these days), the characters are mostly pretty decent with the worst of them not really meaning much harm.
The babies are adorable. (All 20 of them.) There’s never been so much cute in a Coen brothers movie, and probably never will be again. Cage may have been difficult to work with, but he does some good physical comedy with the babies crawling around, and there are some good gags recalling the silent movie days when he’s trying to wrangle them all.
So, I don’t know. Even on reflection I like it better but I just didn’t find myself laughing very much. (Again, my incoming mood may have been the factor.) The Boy and The Flower both loved it, though.