My former employers, Joel and Ethan Coen, have a new movie out today. The New York papers gave “Intolerable Cruelty,” a screwball comedy featuring George Clooney and Cathering Zeta-Jones, glowing notices. I’ve seen the ads for the movies, and it hasn’t really looked too great from what I can tell. They sure aren’t billing it as a Coen Brother film, just like Woody Allen’s latest wasn’t marketed as a Woody Allen movie. But looks can be deceiving, as Times film critic Elvis Mitchell confirmed in his review:
Between a lethargic trailer propped up by “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” and the mainstream-sentimentalist producer Brian (“A Beautiful Mind”) Grazer’s name on the credits, there’s plenty of reason for an involuntary recoil toward the Coen Brothers’ fearsomely titled new movie, “Intolerable Cruelty.” But the film is not shudder-worthy. Instead, it’s something not seen in movie theaters for a long time: an intelligent, modern screwball comedy, a minor classic on the order of competent, fast-talking curve balls about deception and greed like Mitchell Leisen’s “Easy Living” and Billy Wilder’s “Major and the Minor.”
The last time the boys tried to make a commerical film—”The Hudsucker Proxy”—it bombed. Ethan used to say that maybe 1,000 people actually paid to see it in the theater. So what did they do next? They were going to make “The Big Lebowski”—the movie I eventually worked on–but John Goodman was unavailable at the time. So they went ahead and made a low-budget crime caper about sad sack criminals in North Dakata.
I remember one of their old friends telling me that he emplored the guys not to make “Fargo.” “You guys just had a major flop and now you are going to make a movie that exactly twelve people are going to want to see.” Of course, “Fargo” turned out to be a fluke smash, and since then, I think Joel and Ethan make whatever movie they can get financed (they usually have at least a half a dozen scripts which they’ve penned, to choose from).
I hope the new one is good. The boys are currently in L.A. filming a remake of the Alec Guiness comedy “The Ladykillers,” which stars Tom Hanks.