Classic Movie Review: Raising Arizona (1987)

Posted: January 6, 2013 in Comedy

raising arizona

HI McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) is a small time crook with a high recidivism rate.  He robs convenience stores and gets locked up for 8-14 months only to start the cycle again.  One day, HI notices that the police officer who takes his mug shots, Edwina (Holly Hunter) sad beyond consolation.   Her fiancé has run away with another woman.  HI decides that he will marry Edwina and they will have a child together.  The problem is, Edwina can’t bear children of her own, and when the adoption agencies see HI’s lengthy criminal record, no one will let him adopt a child.

Just when all hope appears lost, HI hears that local discount furniture king Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) and his wife, Florence (Lynn Kittei) just had quintuplets.  The Arizonas have more kids than they need.  HI and Edwina hatch a plan to take one of the quints, and raise him as their own in their trailer.  No sooner do they take Nathan Jr. (TJ Kuhn) than things start spiraling out of control.  HI’s jailhouse buddies, Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe) break out of jail, and come visit HI, with no intention of leaving. Edwina wants the two jailbirds gone.  She wants to entertain a higher level of friend on the social strata, so she invites HI’s boss Glen (Sam McDonald) and his wife Dot (Francis McDormand to their trailer.  Glen oddly begins talking about his open marriage and his swinging lifestyle, HI doesn’t want Glen anywhere near his wife, and tells him so, and starts chasing Glen.  Glen runs into a pole and breaks his nose.  Realizing his job is as good as gone, HI reverts to form and knocks over a convenience store again. After barely escaping with his life after that caper, Gale and Evelle want him to help out with a bank robbery, does he do it?

This is a delightful movie.  It hearkens back to the screwball comedies of the 1930’s like It Happened One Night, and Bringing Up Baby.  It’s a simple premise, childless couple wants a baby, but when they plan to kidnap one, everything seems to go horrendously wrong.  As the viewer, you want their plan to succeed, but everytime it seems close to happening, some new obstacle gets in the way.  Everything is done to heighten the comedic effect.  Nicholas Cage and his Nick Nolte mugshot hair, Frances McDormand’s  bad wig perched on her head like an awful bird’s nest and Nicholas Cage running for his life several times, while trying to steal Huggies for his kidnapped son.  It is also quite a touching film, there’s a moment in the film where HI lists all his disappointments as a husband and father to Edwina, in letter form, and the viewer realizes that he wants to be a good person, but the way his life is now, he might not get that chance.  One thing I kept thinking was that poor boy playing Nathan Jr, was put in the middle of some really outlandish situations, and always had a big smile on his face.  I felt bad for that kid.

The acting is superb, Nicholas Cage gave the best performance of his career, sweet and naïve, trying his hardest to provide for his new family, the only way he knows how. So now the inevitable question, where did this this funny, engaging actor go, and how do we movie fans get him back? Holly Hunter is a firecracker in this movie, just explosive from minute one, she’s in full Mama Grizzly mode, protective of both HI and her son.  She is also the moral compass of the movie, wanting all bad influences out of HI’s life. So what if her moral compass is a little bent by suggesting  kidnapping a child, it’s all done out of love  John Goodman is funny just being John Goodman, and every one of the cast has something funny to add.  It’s a true ensemble effort.

The writing is quick and snappy, if you missed a joke, don’t worry there will be another one coming soon.    The direction is similarly brisk, the action, the slapstick comes fast and furious. Coen Brothers, you won me over, again.

Raising Arizona.  A phoenix tries to rise.


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