Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988) Review

With the Oscars been and gone, we can be relax for another year after knowing that Leonardo DiCaprio lost again (and, yes, I'm so happy that Frozen won best song...thank you, 'Adele Dazeem') but what is still apparent is that the Academy still fell for the blatant Oscar bait with 12 Years a Slave walking away with Best Picture and, while it is a very good film, makes me wish for some variety in the winners. The comedy genre is almost ignored by the Academy so lets take a look at a comedy film that, while not winning best picture, still walked away with an Oscar.

When an American diamond thief, Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her boyfriend Otto (Kevin Kline) pull off a London bank heist with master criminal George (Tom Georgeson) and animal lover Ken (Michael Palin), they pin the whole heist on George in an attempt to keep all the money for themselves. However, the plan backfires after they learn that George has already moved the money to a location that only he and Ken know. While Otto tries to get the information out of Ken, Wanda attempts to seduce George's lawyer - Archie Leach (John Cleese).

The cast are terrific. John Cleese somehow manages to avoid his usual schtick and plays a much more emphatic character while also retaining his brilliant comedic timing and delivery. He is one of the pioneers of British comedy and it continues to show here. Along with him is Michael Palin who plays a surprisingly sympathetic character and Palin's actions and delivery (Ken's stutter helps) makes for another meorable character. Jamie Lee Curtis may be the weakest link of the main cast but still works very well in the film however everyone is absolutely overshadowed by Kevin Kline. Kline knocks the role out of the park as Otto. His mannerisms, his delivery, his look, everything about the role is perfect. There's a reason that Kevin Kline is one of the only actors to win an Oscar for a comedic role and he really deserves. Otto is easily one of my favourite film characters and Kevin Kline brings him to life perfectly.

As a fan of British comedy, I can safely say that this is spot on comedy. There is a strong balance of farce and line delivery that makes for hilarious moments and quotable lines. What also works is the rivalry between the traditional, stiff-upper-lip Englishman Archie and the mad, gun toting Anglophobia American Otto which leads to some commentary about how cold the English are portrayed to be (and, in some cases, actually are) against how upfront and confrontational Americans are depicted...and then the film has fun with the idea leading to a hilarious and satisfying conclusion.

While it may be morbid to say, it says something when someone laughs to death at A Fish Called Wanda (seriously, that happened) because it is a brilliantly written and performed comedy. All the actors are a delight to watch with Kevin Kline leading the way with his Oscar winning performance. Throw in some commentary about depictions of the English and American stereotypes and you have yourself a treat to watch. If you're a fan of British comedy, this is one you should search out and watch.

Excellently written, brilliantly performed and even has some social commentary.

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