Joel and Ethan Coen make wonderful movies, many of which focus on love and marriage. One of their funniest movies, “Raising Arizona,” deals with a couple’s search for completeness through the kidnapping of a child. “O Brother Where Art Thou” takes Homer’s Odyssey and turns it into a journey to win back Everett McGill’s wife.
The Coens continue their twisted look at love and marriage in the wickedly funny “Intolerable Cruelty.”
George Clooney is Miles Massey, the best divorce lawyer in the country and the man behind “The Massey Prenup,” which is the only prenuptial agreement never overturned in court. It is so good that Harvard Law teaches a class on it. Massey can take a case where there is videotaped evidence of his client’s infidelity and still win a settlement in the client’s favor. Yet for all his success, he is a lonely and hollow man.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is Marylin Rexroth, the kind of woman who “eats men for lunch,” as she says. In days gone by she would be called a “gold digger.” She thinks of herself as an entrepreneur in search of financial security. How does a woman like this find financial security? She finds it in a nice divorce settlement from a rich man. Her modus operandi is to marry quickly, then throw the man away like a piece of chewed gum.
While in a settlement conference, Massey and Rexroth meet. Massey becomes enraptured by the soon-to-be former Mrs. Rexroth. He sees in her both the answer to his longing and something he always goes after: the unobtainable. It is from here that we go on a rollercoaster ride through the slimy underbelly of the rich and famous’ proclivities of marriage and divorce.
The two stars give the movie much of its bounce, and they are so engaging that you cannot take your eyes off the screen. Yet, they both play indecent, amoral and slimy people who do some despicable things to each other. But there is something about Marylin that hits Massey in a place he never knew: his heart.
The movie has a dark comic edge to it, and you will find yourself laughing at things that logically are terrible, but are really fall-out-of-your-seat funny.
“Intolerable Cruelty” is not one of the Coens’ greatest movies, but it is decent. But I say this with a couple of caveats. First, the Coen brothers make movies that need to be seen more than once. The more you watch their movies, the better they get.
And second, the Coen brothers are an acquired taste. Some people see their movies and never really appreciate their humor or style because their films are heavy in dialogue. But it is in listening that one comes to appreciate their skill and craft.
“Intolerable Cruelty” is an example of this. The dialogue style is based on screwball comedies like “The Philadelphia Story,” “Bringing Up Baby’ and “His Girl Friday.” While not as good as any of these movies, “Intolerable Cruelty” isn’t a bad homage.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief violence
Director: Joel Coen
Writers: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Miles Massey: George Clooney; Marylin Rexroth: Catherine Zeta-Jones; Donovan Donaly: Geoffrey Rush; Gus Petch: Cedric the Entertainer; Rex Rexroth: Edward Herrmann; Howard: Billy Bob Thornton; Freddy Bender: Richard Jenkins.