Review: Raising Arizona (1987)


At long last I review another film by the Coen Brothers!

Written By: Ethan & Joel Coen
Directed By: Ethan & Joel Coen

I was struggling with putting my thoughts on Raising Arizona into any sort of comprehensible context, oh alliteration how I love you! When this is the case I often turn to critics I like or people whose views on movies I trust, and one review helped me come to grips with why I really liked Raising Arizona. I don’t always agree with Roger Ebert, I often find myself wanting to bash my head against a wall anytime he reviews a psychological horror film, but even when I disagree with him he does bring up points that help to move me in the right direction. His main gripe against Raising Arizona was that it created a world where the viewer didn’t know what to expect, a world where the viewer couldn’t understand why anything would happen, thus why should they find any of it funny? Oh Mr. Ebert, I don’t know if I can properly describe how much I disagree with you about Raising Arizona.

The viewer doesn’t know what to expect from Raising Arizona and that is perhaps the films coup de grace. It’s not as genre crushing as later Coen brothers films will be, but it refuses to stop and label itself as any specific kind of comedy. Raising Arizona doesn’t really worry about making sense, or about the world it operates in. It is at times realistic, while at others it is completely unbelievable. There is comedy to be found in Raising Arizona, sometimes it is farcical, other times it is smart, and so on. You never know what to expect from Raising Arizona and that helps the film to remain fresh and different during every second of its running time.

There is one area where Raising Arizona is easily recognizable and that is in the offbeat humor of the Coen brothers. The humor may be all over the place and willing to enter any sub-genre of comedy, but throughout Raising Arizona the off kilter humor of the Coen brothers rises to the top. Whether you are talking about the language employed by the characters, H.I. stealing Huggies from a convenience store, John Goodman and Nicholas Cage dueling for the title of worst haircut or the lead characters stealing a baby because the parents have enough already; you are witnessing the brilliance that is found in the Coen brothers offbeat comedic style.

As usual in a Coen brothers film the cinematography is gorgeous and the set design is even better. The upstairs hallway of the Arizona household is an example of genius in film making. Every second of Raising Arizona plays that way, every second features some shot or design that serves a purpose and looks gorgeous at the same time. It’s scary to think that the Coen brothers would improve their cinematic eye after Raising Arizona because their eye was already tremendous.

Like any great Coens brother film Raising Arizona isn’t just on the surface, it is a deep film with many possible themes and connections. Their camera is constantly making thematic connections, such as the tie-in of Ed and H.I. getting a baby at the same moment as Gale and Evelle are birthed from the ground outside the prison. The themes of Raising Arizona go beyond images, for instance I found the entire movie to be a statement on Reagonomics and the state of American economics and family in the ’80’s. If you probe even deeper you can find more themes and allegorical droppings, don’t buy into the all style argument, Raising Arizona has substance in spades.

I’m not willing to call Raising Arizona a perfect movie or even among the truly elite Coen brothers films due to a few moments that don’t quite work for me. It’s as simple as that really, a few cuts and edits here and there interrupted the flow of the film for me and that’s about all I have to hold against Raising Arizona. Looking beyond those minor qualms, Raising Arizona is yet another great addition to my Coen brothers experience. It’s funny and offbeat with the regular brilliant Coen brothers touches. If you are a Coen brothers fan chances are you’ve already seen Raising Arizona, but if you haven’t then you need to see this funny, funny movie.




3 responses to “Review: Raising Arizona (1987)

  1. James Blake Ewing

    This is my favorite Coen brothers film. It’s one of those films that has me rolling on the floor every time. It’s such a ridiculous, off the wall film but still presents characters that are never simply characatures. And such a great ending. Makes me smile just thinking about it.

  2. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Directing Props, Pt. 2! | Bill's Movie Emporium

  3. The absurdity of this one,and the Coens in general, is why it’s so great.

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