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.
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.
'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.
A Fish Called Wanda is a real "treasure", and it is not just my opinion. The film which was a great success with the critics and the box offices when it was released has been included in all possible lists of the funniest movies and the best comedies. I looked them all up. :) My younger son, who lists AFCW as one of his favorite comedies, wrote the review about it and posted on this very site. He says in the end of his review: "The film is close to 2 hours long, but the plot is so clever and well-structured that it's over before you know it. To me, that is one of the trademarks of a great film. You don't want this movie to end, and you're disappointed when it does." I can add that as soon as it is over I want to watch it from the beginning and experience the magic of great movie making again. Very talented artists participated in making A Fish Called Wanda, and everything in the film turned out simply perfect. What makes the film truly funny all actors, including in the small cameos, created memorable characters because they had wonderfully constructed and written script to work with. John Cleese deserves the first mention for his excellent triple work as the co-writer of the Oscar nominated script/co-director and the star in the role of Archie Leach, the well-mannered English gentleman whose marriage seems to be in crisis, the defender of George, the leader of the diamonds thieves who keeps the "key" to the coveted loot to himself. Cleese's partner Python - Michael Palin is excellent as shy, stuttering hit-man Ken who is secretly in love with Wanda, tenderly loves animals but is ready to help an inconvenient witness to "meet with an accident", even if it is a very old lady with a weak heart. Loud, pushy and sexually liberated Americans are represented in the film by Wanda (always charming and illuminating the screen Jamie Lee Curtis) and her lover Otto, the former CIA operative, the expert in all kinds of weapons (Kevin Kline in the Oscar winning performance) whom she introduces as her brother. Wanda is as seductive and sexy as she is clever, unscrupulous, conniving and backstabbing. What she wants she sure will get. She is much cleverer than all men around her combined together but seems that in the end she might find the right man. And finally, Otto, "the ape who reads philosophy but does not understand it...the man so stupid that calling him stupid is insult to stupid people" who does not realize how vulgar and intellectually challenged he is. In the movie where there is no bad or boring performance at all, Kline is outstanding. A talented film and stage actor who has performed in many Shakespeare's plays, he would never have the role as brilliant and funny as Otto.
You can write the volumes about A Fish Called Wanda but they will not explain its charm. One of the reasons that makes the film so funny is playing the differences or in this case, the conflicts and clashes between the different cultures, mentalities, ways of living, talking (even if the same language), behaving, presenting oneself. But it is just one of the reasons, there are many more. I only add that there is documented the known death of a viewer from laughing while watching A Fish Called Wanda. It happened in Denmark in 1989. The audiologist named Ole Bentz laughed so hard while watching the film that his heart rate was pounding between 250 and 500 beats per minute which led to the fatal heart attack. It is certainly a tragedy but come to think of it, a person died while being happy on the top of enjoyment. I envy such death.
And finally, a famous Russian writer and poet of 19th century, Alexander Pushkin wrote in his play 'Mozart and Salieri', "If the sad and dark thoughts come to your mind, Just open a bottle of Champagne or Read again the "Marriage of Figaro." (Translation is mine)
I just would add - or watch again "A Fish Called Wanda."
I'd just got back from the cinema and watching All The King's Men, (see separate review) so my poor overwrought brain needed a rest without being rendered completely redundant. A Fish Called Wanda is a classic example of what I am beginning to call a Friday Night Movie, entertaining and amusing without being brain dead; something you can watch for some escapism after a tedious week at work, but without actually having your intelligence insulted.
A Fish Called Wanda features the delicious Jaime Lee Curtis at her peak, (she then had the body I have always wanted to have and she probably still does I don't!), John Cleese doing what he does best, playing a repressed Englishman who cuts loose, Michael Palin as a stuttering, fishkeeping diamond robber and Kevin Cline as a slimeball. It was directed by Charles Crichton, who directed such classics of British cinema as The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt, (whose very name evokes a by-gone age of innocence. Ahhhh!!! The good old days ) Charles Crichton was such a stalwart of British cinema that his IMDb listing seems to require extra bandwidth to do it justice.
It is a simple story of crime gone wrong. Four characters team up to steal diamonds Otto (Cline), Wanda (Curtis), Ken (Palin) and George (Tom Georgeson). After the gang steal the diamonds, Otto and Wanda "shop" George to the police thinking they can make off with the loot, but distrustful George and Ken have already moved the loot somewhere safer, so Wanda must seduce George's lawyer Archie (Cleese) to ascertain where the diamonds are being stashed. This leads to some classic scenes, such as one in the London Docklands loft apartment, borrowed for an afternoon of seduction while the owner is supposedly away, where Archie is surprised naked by the family who have rented the property. I defy anyone not to crack up completely as he reaches for the family photo to cover his groin .. Michael Palin is wonderful no, they are all wonderful, a great cast, why pick anyone out for special attention? The movie is well written, not a word is superfluous, well edited, very funny and well acted. Classy and a classic of the Cockney Crime Caper genre. Love it!
* * * 1/2 Very Good
Most comedy films are forgettable and very mediocre. This one's an exception, because of lively paced direction, good writing and Kevin Klein's acting performance. the story concerns a trio of English criminals, the jewel heist and trying to later locate the stolen jewels, hidden after the theft and take care of witnesses to the crime.
I saw this film when it was first released theatrically in 1988 and remembered it for being very funny. Kevin Klein won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, a rare win for a comedy film. Klein plays the character with much enthusiasm, imagination, style, technique (including accents), energy and good timing. The characters and situations are well written (creative and insightful) for a comedy film. Klein's performance is classic. John Cleese wrote a large variety of jokes, delivered almost non-stop, for pretty much everything in the story.
I haven't seen this film for 22 years, the longest time until I saw a favorite film a second time. The title has always stayed in my mind, because it left an impression on me. Most comedies are forgettable. The film has some interesting, diverse characters, funny dialog and has an inspired comic energy that is engaging all the way through.
In a nutshell: three strong reasons to like the film: direction, screenplay and Kevin Klein's acting performance. As a comedy, this one's a big favorite of mine, a classic.
Now this movie does have some good things about it--Cleese (playing the straight man for once) is good; Curtis is just fantastic (and incredibly sexy); Kline is even better in a role that got him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar) and Palin is also good. It moves quickly, looks great and I was never really bored.
But, it wasn't funny. I didn't laugh once. I didn't like it in 1988 (some critics weren't too thrilled with it either) and I still don't like it now. For one thing almost all the main characters are vicious and cruel (especially Otto). This movies idea of humor is violence. One character is beaten up multiple times and humiliated--all like it's funny. Another stutters nonstop (that's played for laughs) and is being constantly verbally humiliated and gets maimed in accidents and almost suffocated to death. Another is run over by a steam roller. Animals are killed, live fish are eaten....To some people this might be hysterical but I found it way too cruel to be funny. Also, I'm no prude, but did we really have to have constant non-stop swearing throughout the movie? That also isn't funny--just annoying.
I'm giving this a 5 for the actors--and that's about it. Still, it was a smash hit so it depends on what you find funny. If you love the Three Stooges this is for you.
There isn't much wrong with the basic idea behind the film and the idea of the protagonists double-crossing each other in an attempt to get the stolen loot certainly holds a lot of promise, but sadly this was just a really big missed opportunity.
For a start, the characters aren't very well-written and sadly the gags are very one- note and repetitive. Michael Palin's character Ken Pile has a stutter and that's about it - it's mildly amusing at first, but when that's the only funny thing about his character it wears thin very quickly. I'm also surprised that Kevin Kline won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Really? Perhaps he should have won the award for Best Overacting Actor. God was he irritating in this film - he shouted all the time, randomly spoke in a stupid Italian accent for no apparent reason, and he was just generally annoying. Later in the film we see Pile trying to take out a witness to the robbery, but every time he tries to kill her he ends up killing her dogs - it wasn't that funny the first time, but to have this as the only running gag shows a real lack of imagination and I must admit that this is very lazy and disappointing (and as one of the writers Cleese must burden some of the responsibility for some of its failings).
The only moderately interesting aspect of the story was the relationship between Wanda and Leach. Leach is a believable character - a middle-class man stuck in a loveless marriage who merely wants a bit of excitement in his life. Leach is quite a likable guy & Cleese's dead pan expressions and excellent comic timing do help to keep the film mildly tolerable. It's a shame that the material here is thin and largely unfunny. However, Cleese's and Curtis' acting are the best things about this film and their scenes together are easily the best in the film.
However, the final nail in the coffin was the ending which I found to be utterly ridiculous and totally unbelievable. A Fish Called Wanda is a film that seems to be loved by the masses, but it's appeal is something of a mystery to me.
You'll love A Fish Called Wanda if: You are not me!!!!!! Frankly, I always try to show in my reviews both the good & the bad points of a movie but I don't know what to do with this one. It is considered one of the best comedies of all time. Check Wikipedia and you will find that a man actually died from laughter while seeing this!!! YOU may like some of its quotes, YOU may laugh with the various gags, YOU may like the acting well no, I like the acting too especially from John Cleese although all of us know that he had been better. From what I understand this movie is a absolute love\hate flick . I am with the hate minority
You'll hate A Fish Called Wanda if: You, like me, can't understand what the movie is all about!!! Honestly why is this supposed to be a Comedy? I didn't laugh with the quotes because they weren't any, I didn't laugh with the characters because they weren't funny. The girl gets wet when she hears foreign languages, one guy stutters, one guy is a typical British dude who is bored of his life and another one resorts to violence or shouting whenever possible none of this was funny at all. Was it good as a dark comedy? Hardly, it wasn't "dark" at all. Was it good as a Slapstick comedy? Nope, a guy eating fish to torture someone or a dog getting smashed by a crate or bitten by a dog isn't funny Not only the movie wasn't good as a comedy but it was also bad a crime movie. It lacked continuity the various scenes of the movie just didn't blend together to create an entertaining flick. I expected clever plot twists and interesting characters I got neither!
FINAL VERDICT: Huh? (0.5/10)
[+] I DON'T KNOW!!!
[-] Hardly a Comedy, hardly a Crime movie. Badly directed.
Also Check: Fierce Creatures (1997) – See No Evil Hear No Evil (1989) – Snatch (2000)
P.S.: My purpose in all my IMDb Reviews is not to say "I like\don't like this movie" but to help you decide whether YOU will like it or not since everything is all about taste and expectations IMO...
The humor might have been better done if there wasn't so much directorial emphasis on it. Usually, the best thing about John Cleese is that his humor sneaks up on you without warning. Here, the jokes are telegraphed and the silliness seems planned. What a letdown.
A Fish Called Wanda succeeds on all counts. It's a stunningly original mix of classic British comedy tropes, scurrilous American vulgarity and farcical characterizations. It provides solid gallows humor, intelligent witticisms, crackling dialogue, excellent cast and energetic pacing. It's also incredibly funny. Not just haha- funny; it's gut-bustingly, rolling in the aisles, sitting alone in front of the TV screen and having the neighbors call the police because there's a maniac on the loose, hilarious.
The film begins with a foursome of jewel thieves meeting at an unassuming London flat. Wanda (Curtis) and Otto (Kline) pose as an American brother and sister team while Georges (Tom) and the regularly stuttering Ken (Palin) are natives who are suspicious of their partners (especially Otto). The jewelry heist is largely a success with only one eye-witness placing Georges at the scene. Otto and Wanda promptly double cross their comrades and calls in a tip to further incriminate Georges. They try to make off with the loot but find the volt where the diamonds were held empty. Seeing no alternative, Wanda continues to court Georges while getting close to his barrister Archie (Cleese), believing that the first person he'll tell is his legal defense team.
The film then tangles itself into an intricate web of deceit, confusions, happenstances and comedic set-pieces that channel the best of the Ealing Studio comedies only with conspicuously modern sensibilities. That's not mere coincidence either, director Charles Crichton directed The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) arguably the studio's most revered accomplishment. Where most modern comedies ensnare themselves in a snarl of contrivance and a fast processional of deus ex machina moments, A Fish Called Wanda pilots through the such pratfalls with glorious confidence. All the who's who, what's where's and what-not's all disseminate from the characters whose broadness is tempered with specific peculiarities.The characters themselves, while broadly drawn are so well composited and made whole by the actors that you'd swear the ghost of Joseph Kesselring was looking down and smiling on the production.
John Cleese's Archie oozes upper crust pomposity and naive gullibility. He's a rube but he's a lovable rube who at times feels like a deadringer to Graham Chapman's various straight-man roles on Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-1974). Fellow Python alum Michael Palin plays a different kind of rube; of the Elmer Fudd variety. His honesty and ineptitude are no match for the intricacies of the plot, let alone Otto's daffiness. There's a reoccurring joke where Otto, in an attempt to keep Ken off his tracks, fakes a homosexual attraction. Sure it's a little dated but within the film's context the joke lands largely due to Palin's deer-in-the-headlights panic. I suppose the added benefit of melding British and American sensibilities ensures that the film is not just funny but funny on multiple wavelengths.
Out of all the pitch-perfect characters that populate this film, Kevin Kline's Otto was perfectly designed to steal the show. Seeing himself as one smart cookie, the irony of Otto is not only his puffed up egoism but his complete inability to see Wanda's betrayal. He's like Nick Bottom from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' with a dollop of Daffy Duck added in for good measure.
Then there's the rapturous Jamie Lee Curtis who uses her feminine wiles to delirious heights against the men. Her resourcefulness and gamesmanship has a Katharine Hepburn-like quality which is only betrayed by her character's orgasmic reaction to the Italian language. Part of the fun of her character however is her ability to bounce off Kevin Kline's childish impetuousness. In one masterful scene of comedic debrief, Wanda pops Otto's quasi-intellectual bubble by saying "Let me correct you on a couple of things. Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not 'Every man for himself.' The London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up."
I could go on and on about A Fish Called Wanda's effortless charm and under-appreciated timelessness. Layered with a plethora of jokes, freakishly good acting and unique sensibilities on top of a clever caper, I simply cannot recommend this film enough. I emphatically implore all to see A Fish Called Wanda to see farce done right.
This film is a true landmark in British comedy. Stop watching whatever you are watching now and go rent out this movie, you won't regret it.
'A Fish Called Wanda' is a delicious comedy, that has the most important thing a Film needs, A Perfect Screenplay, Written by Charles Crichton & John Cleese. Some comedies are memorable due to their screenplay, direction, performances, editing... but this 1988 gem has everything working on it's advantage.
This Comedy is about a jewel heist and its aftermath. It's a wafer-thin plot, with greed as it's Wallpaper. It opens well, but becomes a non-stop laugh riot as soon as the complications begin. The sequences between Cleese and Curtis, intruded by Kevin Kline, are simply hilarious! Even Michael Palin's plot, "The Dog Massacre" lives you in splits. And also the culmination, it's simply superb!
Charles Crichton's direction is memorable, thanks to the screenplay, which he and Cleese have written themselves. Alan Hume's Cinematography is good. John Jympson's editing is crisp and spot-on.
In the acting department, Cleese is outstanding! He plays his part too wonderfully. Kevin Kline is first-rate. Jamie Lee Curtis looks ravishing, and delivers a flawless performance. Michael Palin is hilarious! Tom Georgeson is plain average.
On the whole, If you love COMEDY Films, then this is a MUST for you! Two Big, Hilarious, Thumbs Up!