Jamie Lee Curtis and John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda.
Very, very, very few movies are above criticism. A Fish Called Wanda is one of those movies. At no point during this brilliantly funny movie did I think, 'Oh, they should have done this.' or 'Why did they include that scene?'. Every scene is a gem, the comedic timing is perfect, and the performances are golden in this, the funniest movie ever made.
Written by John Cleese over the course of five years, A Fish Called Wanda tells the familiar story of boy meets girl, girl pretends to be in love with him, her fictitious brother, and her gangster boyfriend. Girl, two of her lovers, and the stuttering sidekick plan jewelry heist, girl and fictitious brother turn in girl's gangster boyfriend, craziness follows, until finally boy and girl live happily ever after raising seventeen children in a leper colony. Haven't we all seen that plot, a dozen times?
Of course, we haven't! Because this is that truly rare movie, an original. And why shouldn't it be? The script was written by founding Monty Python member, John Cleese, over the course of five years, and then polished by the talented acting team of Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and fellow Python, Michael Palin. During those five years and the subsequent tweaking by the actors, a rich script was created, full of original characters, and zany plot twists. If only more scripts were given this much time to gestate instead of being pushed into production or shuffled from screenwriter to screenwriter.
Charles Crichton, the director, also deserves much of the credit for the perfection of this film. His timing is perfect, and he knows enough to keep his direction unobtrusive so as not to interfere with the comedy. Observe the scene in John Cleese's study after his wife returns early from the opera, probably the funniest scene in the movie. The timing, the edits, and of course the performance by Cleese are impeccable. This is even more amazing when you learn that the director was in his seventies when he directed this movie, but not surprising when you learn that he has been directing movies for over forty years. His most famous before this one being another caper comedy, The Lavender Hill Mob.
All of the performances are brilliant, but one actor stands out of this stellar crowd, the one, the only, Kevin Kline. His portrayal of Otto stole the movie and won him an Academy Award for Supporting Actor. He has all the best scenes and the best interaction with the rest of the cast. The movie is worth watching for his part alone.
If you love comedies (and who doesn't?), you will love, A Fish Called Wanda.
Kevin Kline and Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda.
YES! This movie is extremely funny! A Fish Called Wanda is that rare adult comedy that does not sink to the gutter to find a laugh. At least not very often.
Scott gives much credit to Kevin Kline, and he is good. His orgasm scene is laugh out loud funny. He redefined the term, "Ugly American." He has such lines as, "Oh, you English are *so* superior, aren't you? Well, would you like to know what you'd be without us, the good ol' U.S. of A. to protect you? I'll tell you. The smallest fucking province in the Russian Empire, that's what! So don't call me stupid, lady." and "Shut up. We didn't lose Vietnam. It was a tie!"
Jamie Lee Curtis is likewise good playing every man around her like a violin, making them all think that she is in love with them. Her most shocking line comes early on when she says to Otto, who is pretending to be her brother, "Even if you were my brother I'd still want to fuck you."
The real glue that keeps it all together though is John Cleese in the role of straight man to everyone around him. His subtle response to his wife and daughter early on is quietly hysterical. When Wanda asks for his autograph, he is so distracted by her cleavage and her supposed interest in his work, that he does not even notice that she is clearly blowing smoke up his ass. He is so painfully British that some of the best moments are when he is caught in awkward positions, such as when Otto dangles him out a window, or when a strange family walks in on him stark naked.
I agree with Scott that the best scene is in John Cleese's study after his wife returns early from the opera. Curtis, Aitken and Kline race about spouting off at each other while Cleese remains the center of it all. He holds all the shenanigans together with shocked silence.
Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda.
This movie is truly hilarious. It is cleverly written and wonderfully performed. Whether you prefer broad slapstick, zany situation comedy or more sophisticated word play, this movie has something for you. It manages to be both old-fashioned and cutting-edge. This project is also the most commercially successful import by any member of the illustrious Monty Python. In short, I liked it.
The one area where my opinion differs from that of my brother's is in the fact that I think Jamie Lee Curtis steals the show. Sure Kevin Kline has the more obviously funny part, still, I always laugh more at Wanda. Her erotic reaction to any foreign language, her effortless duplicity, which enables her to wrap every male around her finger. She combines the sexual appeal of Monroe with the energy and intelligence of Rosalind Russell. This is a great performance.
John Cleese is a joy to watch. Like Woody Allen, he is able to find the humor in human frailty. Mainly, how most men turn to mush in the hands of a hot female. This is made all the funnier by his stuffy British persona just waiting to rebel.
If you find yourself in a situation where you must choose a movie for people you don't know well, this is the perfect pick. Its broad comedy and timeless take on human relationships should appeal to almost anyone.
Photos © Copyright MGM (1988)