(1987) directors Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
I’d been sort of toying with the notion of watching Raising Arizona with the kids for a year or so. It’s PG-13, but I couldn’t recall anything overtly offensive about it. Not that it’s a kids movie or anything, but it’s so visual, so funny, and it’s got a cute baby in it. Still, it wasn’t until New Years Day 2011, getting rained out on a trip downtown, stranding us at my house with nothing really to do, that the opportunity really offered itself to us.
I’d picked up a copy of the film when a local video store was going out of business. Since I’d first seen it in 1987, on its initial release, it was pretty much a favorite. Really, it’s part of the core essence of getting into the Coen brothers’ films was all about. But in ’87, I think that the main reason I went to see it was for Nicolas Cage, who was still at that point an unironic favorite of mine. And frankly, Raising Arizona is definitely one of his best movies.
I had actually sort of considered taking Felix at least to True Grit (2010), also PG-13. But when it came down to it, introducing the kids to the Coen brothers is, though possibly premature, nothing to be ashamed of.
Raising Arizona is actually one of those weird films that started out as a cult film (it wasn’t all that well known in 1987) but probably between home video and cable television, is one of those pretty universally appreciated films. Am I right about this? Or am I projecting?
From the terrific yodelling and banjo soundtrack, to the amazingly cartoonish cinematography by Barry Sonenfeld, to the trailer-park, well-spoken vernacular in which all the characters speak, the Coens tapped into perhaps their most successfully hilarious film. Cage and Holly Hunter, who meet in the opening voice-over narrated introduction, he H.I. McDunnough, small-time criminal (who robs liquor stores with ammunition-free guns) and Hunter as Ed, the correctional officer who photographed him, are the young couple who would do right if only a child would come to them. When Ed turns out to be “barren”, they concoct a plan to steal one of a set of quintuplets born to a local furniture maven and his wife, figuring that “they have more than they can handle”.
Throw in John Goodman and William Forsythe as Gale and Evelle Snoats, former cell-mates of Cage’s, who “release themselves on their own recognazaence, the whole thing is a mixture of madcap, comic, and sublime.
Really, my only complaint ever about the film was the figure of the biker of the apocalypse, which while somewhat fitting, giving the film its real villain, always felt a lot more forced and concocted than the rest of the characters in the film. It’s just that most of the film is so pitch-perfect, so verbally and physically funny, that this one (while not sour note) is the only thing that just never felt quite right. I guess that I’ve gotten over that more over the years. It didn’t stick out as much as it used to to me.
Actually, the kids really enjoyed it. As far as the appropriate-ness level, well, outside of a baker’s dozen curse-words that seem to show up a lot less in the last two decades of movies that might be attended by children, it really doesn’t have anything too untoward. Though there is the wife-swapping gag too. Luckily I didn’t get posed the questions around that, though I’m sure that it didn’t make a lot of sense to them.
Frankly, I think I’d have to rank Raising Arizona as one of my favorite films. Perhaps that situates me in with the mainstream, perhaps not. Perhaps I don’t care.