Miles Massey, a prominent Los Angeles divorce attorney has everything--and in some cases, two of everything. Despite his impressive client list, a formidable win record, the respect of his peers and an ironclad contract (the Massey pre-nup) named after him, he's reached a crossroads in his life. Sated on success, boredom has set in and he's looking for new challenges. All that changes when Miles meets his match in the devastating Marylin Rexroth. Marylin is the soon-to-be ex-wife of his client Rex Rexroth, a wealthy real estate developer and habitual philanderer. With the help of hard charging private investigator Gus Petch, she has Rex nailed and is looking forward to the financial independence a successful divorce will bring. But thanks to Miles' considerable skills, she ends up with nothing. Not to be outdone, Marylin schemes to get even and as part of her plan, quickly marries oil tycoon Howard Doyle. Miles and his unflappable associate, Wrigley, unwittingly dig themselves in ... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
I had been slightly disappointed with the Coens' previous *The Man Who Wasn't There* -- it was, in my judgment, their first non-masterpiece since their apprentice-work *Blood Simple*. While all their films are self-consciously derivative, *Wasn't There* was derivative without the wit (though brilliantly filmed and acted regardless).
*Intolerable Cruelty* is a return to a less fussy Coen style. It's lean, mean, to the point, no wasted scenes. And it's very witty, featuring dialogue and references that have clearly sailed over the average idiot's head, as well as the fairweather Coen Brothers fan's head. Joel and Ethan remind us here that a mainstream IDEA for a movie is not equivalent to a STUPID idea for a movie. The movie mixes wild slapstick with delicious bon mots. There's always something going on. And the picture looks fantastic (another triumph for DP Roger Deakins), showing us a shimmering, sunlit paradise of an almost mythical Los Angeles. The leads, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are also shot to advantage: neither have looked better, and Zeta Jones in particular practically sucks your breath away every time she appears in a different Rodeo Drive confection. Yowza!
The film failed, as almost all Coen Brothers' movies fail, at the box office because, while delightful and funny, it's also ICE-COLD. The filmmakers, as they always do, distance us from the characters, inviting us to contemplate them rather than to get emotionally involved with them. This is a formula for box-office disaster, especially for romantic comedy. The women-demographic who came expecting a chick-flick were turned off cold, and the guys stayed away, anyway. Coen Brothers "fans" once again proved to be a fickle bunch, lambasting the film as too "mainstream" while utterly failing to get the subtext. These are the same "fans", by the way, who avoided *Lebowski* and *Hudsucker* and *Barton Fink* because it was too "excessive" and/or "weird". Make up your minds, fairweathers. In any case, I'll be one of the "I-Told-You-Sos" when, a decade hence, *Intolerable Cruelty* will be regarded as one of the few intelligent romantic comedies made in recent times.
Let me put it this way: if you think a movie in which the two romantic leads put a contract on each other is too "mainstream", you've revealed yourself as a poseur who should leave the amateur reviewing to the grown-ups. Have a nice day.
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