Intolerable Cruelty (2003) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief violence
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrman, Billy Bob Thornton, Richard Jenkins, Paul Adelstein, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Joel Coen
Screenplay: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Although it will probably be seen as the least "Coen" of the Coen brothers films, Intolerable Cruelty is still unmistakably theirs. Like many of their previous films (Hudsucker Proxy, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn't There), this one hearkens back to the 30s and 40s, although set completely in modern times. When you think of comedies back then, you immediately think of the term "screwball," and the Coens latest is decidedly old school in its approach to romantic comedy. They re-drafted an original screenplay by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (Life, Big Trouble) and added all of the little touches and quirky characterizations you've come to know, love and expect in a Coen romp. Just don't look for their artistic flourishes. This one's purely on a mission to entertain, which it succeeds in doing quite well.
George Clooney plays divorce attorney Miles Massey, recently hired by multimillionaire Rex Rexroth when his wife Marilyn (Zeta-Jones) files papers on him after he's caught in the act by a detective, all captured on videotape. It would seem an open-and-shut divorce case, with Marilyn taking all she can of the Rexroth fortune, but Massey is unscrupulous in his approach to winning, and finds more joy in completely destroying the other end than just winning the case outright. The only catch in the case comes from the fact that Marilyn and Miles have an attraction to each other, even though they are pulling no punches in trying to completely undermine each other.
Although Intolerable Cruelty is a light, amusing slice of "battle of the sexes" comedy, you probably should expect to smile much more than guffaw at all of the crazy antics. The screenplay, while having its moments of amusement, would not have been enough to make this a worthwhile endeavor if not for the good casting of the main players and the little visual touches injected by the offbeat minds of the Coens. It's fun to watch Clooney mirth and mope around in his hapless fashion, and with the alluring Catherine Zeta-Jones as his rival, there is a love-hate chemistry that will remind you of the terrific comic pairing of Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in the hit TV comedy, "Moonlighting."
Intolerable Cruelty is as commercial a venture as you'll see from the Coens, but still will not be seen as conventional enough to gain a mass audience. It's a bridge between the offbeat and the mainstream, and in trying to please both houses, they will probably not strike as hard enough to resonate to those who belong in either camp exclusively. However, if you are a person who finds enjoyment in both styles, you should be more than pleased at this energetic romp, especially if you are a huge fan of the two engaging lead performers. A good companion with the 60s-influenced love/hate comedy Down with Love, which should hopefully send a message to other comic filmmakers that the old Hollywood formula works far more magic than the recent trend of pushing the envelope with nonstop potty humor and sexual innuendo.
© 2003 Vince Leo