Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 15, 2018)
When Joel and Ethan Coen debuted via 1984ís Blood Simple, they attracted the attention of critics but not audiences. With 1987ís follow-up Raising Arizona, they also reached moviegoers Ė sort of.
In truth, Raising didnít make much of a dent at the box office, but its $22 million was 13 times the prior filmís gross. It led more folks to become aware of the Coens and theyíd slowly build an audience from there.
Career criminal HI McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) meets corrections officer Edwina during his many intake bookings, and they eventually fall in love and marry. Edwina desires a family but she learns that she canít reproduce.
To satisfy these maternal urges, HI and Edwina decide to kidnap one of a group of famous local quintuplets. Though HI pulls off the abduction without issue, complications develop that threaten the new family.
When I saw Raising back in 1987, I didnít care for it Ė hoo boy, did I hate it! I disliked the film so much that it turned me off of the Coens for years.
Even when I saw the Coens in a more favorable light, my affection connected to their dramatic work. For years after Raising, I continued to dislike their stabs at humor Ė indeed, I still canít claim to have seen a Coens comedy that I really enjoyed.
30 years after I first saw Raising, I decided to check it out again and see if Iíd softened toward it. I have, though not enough to claim I actually like it Ė while I donít hate the flick like I did in 1987, I still think it comes with more than a few flaws.
Maybe I just donít connect to the Coensí broad, skewed sense of humor. Many regard 1998ís Big Lebowski as a classic comedy, but like most Coensí attempts at laughs, I think it seems far too self-conscious and without much real cleverness or wit.
The Coens make Raising more of a farce than Lebowski was Ė too much of a farce, honestly, as it seems too broad and stupid for my liking. I get that the Coens donít intend us to take the events as literal, but the result simply feels idiotic too much of the time.
I think the Coensí negative attitude hurts the product. Raising lacks empathy for it characters and revels in its sense of smug superiority instead.
This means no warmth toward the characters, as the film instead depicts them as annoying hicks Ė and illogical hicks to a large degree, as Raising seems to confuse Arizona for the Deep South. Why do all these Southwesterners look and sound like they live in the back woods of Appalachia?
Because thatís a cheap way to make the characters look like dopes. Throw in hillbilly banjo music Ė also illogical in a movie that takes place in Arizona Ė and Raising uses tacky shorthand to attempt condescending laughs.
Maybe someday Iíll understand why many view the Coens as comedic geniuses, but it wonít happen today. While I donít loathe Raising Arizona like I did 30 years ago, I still donít see its appeal, as I think it delivers a smug, witless affair.