Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Arts

Rated or Dated: Raising Arizona

30 years since the Coen brothers’ madcap tale of a babynapping gone wrong, Hannah Dunleavy gets stuck in to a bonafide quirk-o-rama.

“Kick-started a lifelong love affair with the Coen brothers”: Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona. Photos: 20th Century Fox.

What and why: The Coen brothers’ second film, which was 30 this month, tells the tale of Hi (Nicolas Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter), a childless couple who plot to steal one of the newly born quins of local businessman Nathan Arizona and raise him as their own. Much hilarity ensues.

Rated or dated: I first saw Raising Arizona when I was about 14, my family having patiently waited for its arrival on VHS since my aunt (who lives in America) had visited and given us a blow-by-blow account of why she loved it. (The words “No… unless round is funny” were a joke in our house long before any of us had ever seen it.)

Now, you’d think that it could only disappoint us. But of course it didn’t, because RAISING ARIZONA.

In fact, it kick-started a lifelong love affair with the Coen brothers, for me (and, to a lesser extent, for my Dad). No one has consistently made excellent films in the way they have in the last 30-odd years and, while I will never enter a ‘which is the best Coen brothers film?’ conversation, I have in the past entered a ‘what is your favourite?’ conversation. And for many years – or more specifically, until they made No Country for Old Men – my answer was Raising Arizona.

So, not the most impartial person to rate or date it, right? Well, actually, I hadn’t seen it in a decade, and when I settled down to watch it I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about.

“What with the intro start and quirk-o-rama, I’m guessing Wes Anderson loves this film.”

OK. I’m lying. I loved it. Of course I did. It’s a stupid film about stupid people behaving stupidly and what’s not to love about that?

Yes, it sags a little in the middle and no, it’s not as accomplished as The Big Lebowski, but it manages to pair glorious deadpan delivery with some of the most ridiculous slapstick and somehow it just works. (I have no idea if anyone actually speaks like people do in this film but I can dream.)

Let’s start at the start. Because the start. The opening 10 minutes of voiceover by Cage, explaining what, in the last decade, has led to him and his wife strapping a ladder to the roof of their car is pretty close to genius, establishing in an incredibly economic fashion, not just the world of Raising Arizona, but the world of Coen brothers comedy too.

And it’s a world full of quirk*, from the oddly stage-y Arizona home, to the now-familiar horror hairstyles.
*I’ve got nowhere else to put this thought, so it might as well go here: what with the intro start and quirk-o-rama, I’m guessing Wes Anderson loves this film.

‘Lone Biker of the Apocalypse’ Leonard Smalls (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb).

There’s some great sight gags; the policeman falling out of the car window; the pack of dogs running through people’s houses and John Goodman robbing a bank holding a baby in a car seat, in particular. But perhaps no image sticks in the mind as much as Leonard Smalls, the bounty hunter tasked with tracking down little lost Nathan Jnr*. Played by former boxer Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb, we’re supposed to believe he’s been conjured from Hi’s imagination and it’s pretty easy to do.
*I’m pretty sure the back rifles sported by Simon Pegg when he storms the village in Hot Fuzz are a homage to Leonard, the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse.

But the real star of the show is Hunter. The Coens wrote the part for her (she’s a long-time friend of Joel’s wife Frances McDormand, who has a small role here too). And she more than repaid that kindness, doing everything that’s asked of her and more, including some of the best comedy sobbing ever. RATED.

@thatdunleavy

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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.