A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
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This is a work of comic genius. And, like any good film, the screenplay is at the heart of the belly laughs. Every character is given a detailed personality quirk or two, and then it is shamefully exploited for laugh after laugh. Note for example, John Cleese's speech to Jamie Lee Curtis about how awful it is to be British - the eternal fear of embarrassment. Moments later, he is caught buck naked in a marital tryst in some else's flat by the people to used to live in his own home. Also, the funny-offensive envelope is pushed to the limit when K-K-K-Ken (Michael Palin), the passionate animal lover inadvertently kills three innocent dogs in his attempt to murder an old woman who would otherwise be a prosecution witness. Now that's funny!
Cleese's character, Archie Leach (Carey Grant's real name) is a likable buffoon of a lawyer, happy in his banal existence until he meets the sexy American, Wanda (Jamie Lee). I cannot even being to describe the plot beyond that point without doing it a grave disservice. It twists and dangles about in a world of double-cross and goldfish-eating for no other reason than to set up a joke.
You cannot speak of this film without mention of Kevin Kline as Otto, a role that won him a richly-deserved Oscar. Otto is the ex-CIA "weapons man" who makes it his business to read philosophy but would be more at home with Curious George. An obsessive, self-indulgent, painfully stupid, violent, deceitful, gullible egomaniac, the character of Otto is amongst the best comedic performances ever delivered.
The film's funniest scene takes place at Leach's (Cleese) house. In a scene that rivals anything that has ever hit the screen for laughs, the film and its scripts looks deep enough into itself to even give Cleese's dry-as-toast wife a laugh or two. Then, later on, this scene proves to be the set up for even more jokes. A Fish Called Wanda is pure comedy and every scene either provides a laugh or sets one up - it graciously does not waste our time trying to be moral or turning into a formula car-chase flick.
My comments are choppy but so is this movie. If you see it and don't laugh, check your pulse. We have only been given a handful of good comedies in the last decade. A Fish Called Wanda is a treasure. **** out of ****.
NOTE: TBS and some other TV networks show this film with the "offensive language" edited out. It kills the movie - if you can't hack the language, pass this one over.
Oh, and in case Kevin Kline is reading this: Happy birthday! You're my favorite actor!
Aside from an inch-perfect screenplay, A Fish Called Wanda also benefits from a fine cast of actors to deliver it. John Cleese steals every scene he's in, as you might expect, and he more than justifies his reputation as one of, maybe even the, finest British comedy actor ever. He is joined by a talented pair of Americans; Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis, along with, as mentioned, his fellow Python Michael Palin. Kline is certainly one of the most underrated actors working today, and his comic timing in this movie is right on the money. Makes you wonder how much better he could have been used over the years. "Scream Queen" Jamie Lee Curtis also does well in the title role; and Michael Palin obviously knows his way round a comedy script. The jokes in the film come thick and fast, and I can't think of a single one that didn't work. It's the big gags that are the real stand out of the movie, though, and one in particular that sees Kevin Kline trying to explain to Cleese's wife what he's doing in their home is absolutely priceless. I nearly fell of my chair laughing. This film is a must see.
'The Fish Called Wanda' is not only well made but also happens to be funny. I call this movie 'the best', which may sound ironical, because Cleese and Palin have even been more funny as Pythons. Also ironical is that Jamie Lee Curtis says only one joke (Aristotle was not...) in the whole film. Kevin Kline is hysterically funny without one-liners and slap-sticks. It is the overall situation that makes the film complete. This is to say, that the film is not at all stuck up with gags but has absolutely right timing for every event. This feature makes the film even better than anything what Monty Python and the Marx Brothers have done. Or at least reaches the same level with them. This film proves that a movie can kill you in laughter using only everyday realism.
A Masterpiece from John Cleese, who proves here that he can be funny even without Pythonity. He actually did the same with 'Fawlty Towers', but as a single film is this the very best. It just works.
This film should appeal to those with no classic movie knowledge, but for those who have seen "To Catch a Thief" and other caper classics, this is even more of a treat. Romantic, funny, and slick.
Also big ups to Michael Palin for another memorable supporting performance.