So some friends of mine managed to secure early passes to Intolerable Cruelty, and I’m pleased to report that the Coens’ first foray into full-fledged romantic comedy (although one could argue for The Hudsucker Proxy) is an out-and-out winner. I’d heard earlier that the Coens had diluted their trademark zaniness for the sake of a mainstream audience this time around, but I found the reverse to be true — the brothers have instead juiced up what could have been a tired genre exercise (Imagine this film with Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Kate Hudson, or Sandra Bullock) with their unique flair and managed to create one of the best, funniest romantic comedies I’ve seen in some time. George Clooney – whom I generally like – is better here as the smooth, almost-imperturbable dental-obsessive Miles Massey than he ever was in O Brother (where he was also good but ever so slightly miscast), and Catherine Zeta-Jones makes for a stunning and worthy adversary as Marilyn Rexroth, eater of men. As for the rest of the cast, they — except for perhaps Geoffrey Rush, who is a little too manic — revel in the type of quality and/or hilarious supporting parts that the Coens continually provide (along with the big names, keep an eye out for Newhart‘s Julia Duffy and, ever so briefly, Bruce Campbell.)
I suppose faults could be found with the predictableness of it all – the movie does follow the traditional romantic comedy story arc the way through. But, the Coens still manage to squeeze in a few clever twists along the way. I dunno…it just worked for me. On one hand, there are goofy, slapstick moments in Intolerable Cruelty (one involving spray mace, for example) that you can see a mile off and normally would have fallen flat, but are redeemed by Clooney and the Coens, who all appear to be working effortlessly. On the other, there are plenty of clever quips and sight gags (the waiting room magazine, or Clooney’s assistant’s T-shirt in the tennis scene) that prove how funny the creators of The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona can be when they’re in a groove. Cruelty isn’t as funny as either of those two films, nor as memorable as Fargo or Miller’s Crossing, but it is an excellent entry in the romantic comedy genre, with just enough Coen to keep you laughing. Take it as such, and you should have a grand ole time.