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Film Review: A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda (1988; Directed by Charles Crichton)

Now 25 years old (!), A Fish Called Wanda is a classic comedy, though perhaps not as much as its initial success might have suggested it would be. Still, it’s hardly aged at all in the passage of time since its release, with the exception of the occasional Jamie Lee Curtis fashion accessory.

Mixing sight gags, situational comedy, character quirks, black humour, and biting verbal jokes masterfully, the script by John Cleese and director Charles Crichton has been rightly praised as a model of the form (and was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar). It starts (and mostly ends) as a heist movie, but corkscrews away from that into courtroom drama send-ups and social comedy-of-manners material along the way. It is never bound by its plot requirements, though, and feels secure enough in its own comic vision to indulge in fruitful and hilarious tangents, like many fine comedies do.

But all of the strength of the writing would mean little without the superb comic performances that bring this exquisite farce to life. Curtis vamps it up as the wheel-turning seductress, Kevine Kline chews every bit of scenery in his dandified path, and Michael Palin (always the most versatile performer of the Monty Python troupe) turns in a committed oddball role of little vanity. But it’s Cleese’s Archie Leach that is the battered soul of the film, a beaten-down, emasculated, lonely man who is torn between delight and depression at the spectacle of his well-built and proper life unraveling completely before his eyes. Kline got the Oscar, but Cleese’s less showy turn wins on points.

Everyone has a favourite scene (and it’s usually the goofy faux-torture between Kline and the stuttering Palin involving the latter’s prize goldfish), but mine is the climactic encounter of the two Python alums. The expected reunion is held back, and the result is a pure, silly laugh riot. As is the case with A Fish Called Wanda in general, which emerges even a quarter-century later as one of the great film comedies of recent memory.

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Categories: Film, Reviews
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  1. August 11, 2013 at 3:33 am

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