The Sleepless Movie Review
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INTOLERABLE CRUELTY
2003
Written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, Joen & Ethan Coen
and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
100 Minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief violence.

This review is being written largely because I had to watch this damn movie again for my comedy class, and this is probably going to be a heady and potentially dull review if for no other reason than I've written a five page essay and watched a fuckton of Zero Punctuation reviews tonight. Frankly, as a writer, my head has spun out.

But the work must get done.

My favorite directors are generally ones that won't be mistaken for critics' darlings, excluding possibly David Cronenberg. The Coen brothers - especially after rocking my fucking house with their first film Blood Simple - are exactly that, a pair of talents critics continue to keep their eyes on. But I'm going to lay some hard truth on you for a minute here: these guys should really just stick with crime movies. Their directing style coupled with their talents as writers lend themselves aggressively to offbeat crime films, and while I base this assumption on having only seen a few of their films, I expect it to remain so. You see, I'm the only person in the world who didn't like The Big Lebowski, and I frankly hated O Brother, Where Art Thou?

But I loved Fargo and Blood Simple, and I'll be getting out at some point to see No Country for Old Men.

Intolerable Cruelty is basically...tolerable. The problem with being a film student is that while it dramatically enhances your appreciation of some films (David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch and David Lynch's Lost Highway both come immediately to mind), it can cripple or even outright destroy others, like this one. The problem is that it's pretty clear they were going for kind of a screwball comedy vibe, a throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1930s and 40s that I've had to mercifully, relentlessly study until I'm blue in the face, and I've gotta tell you...it really fails.

So while in fairness, I didn't think it was that great the first time I saw it with my psychotic ex-girlfriend, I can say that now I have some kind of academic explanation as to why it's just not that good.

Some of the fault lies with the Coen brothers themselves, whose direction is too sophisticated - not stylish, but straight up sophisticated - to be wasted on this kind of material. A scene where George Clooney breaks into a house is expertly shot and would look fantastic in a good movie, and it hearkens back to what these guys are really good at.

Another problem is that the movie is a failure as a screwball comedy. In a battle between the sexes, the two must be evenly matched, and here, Clooney's character is hopeless against the onslaught of cunning that is Zeta-Jones's character (sidenote: I really hate Catherine Zeta- Jones). This gets even more fucked up by the fact that frankly, Clooney outclasses her in every scene he's in.

I'm a straight guy, but I'll tell you right now I fucking love watching George Clooney. He's a talented actor and he owns the camera. He defines presence, and it's really easy to see why his star not only rose as fast as it did once he got that gig on "ER," but stayed so comfortably high in the clouds. And frankly, here, he's a funny motherfucker. His comic timing is impeccable, his mannerisms perfect.

But Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose career is inexplicable to me anyhow, is a miserable opponent for him. She has no comic timing and her acting talent is like if Jessica Alba were bored with life. She superficially has the glamorous quality evocative of 40s era movie stars, but lacks their depth and intelligence. It's no surprise how fast her star is falling, she's frankly just not that good, and because she sucks, she can't fulfill her end of the bargain here.

This movie's a case of knowing the lyrics without the melody. The Coen brothers clearly have some idea of what a screwball comedy looks and sounds like, but the fact that I found this movie in the drama section when I bought it - and it wasn't miscategorized - suggests to me a massive misfire and miscalculation.

Let me be clear: it doesn't suck and it isn't a bad film. It just isn't a particularly good one, and I get a strong sense that my general "eh" disposition towards it will probably earn my midterm essay comparing it with the vastly superior Adam's Rib a middling mark. Judging from the reading material we were given with it, it's fair to say the professor thinks it's a good movie and one of the better recent comedies.

I respectfully disagree.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.