Raising Arizona Review


If Blood Simple was our introduction to Joel and Ethan Coen as smart, talented filmmakers, Raising Arizona is our introduction to them as crazy geniuses. At times, the comedy is laid on a little thick, but for the most part, this is a fantastically fun and breezy ride and a total departure from their first film. I wasn’t even alive back when this one came out, but I have to imagine that few, if any, critics or moviegoers expected the Coens to follow Blood Simple up with this. But therein lies their brilliance, I suppose.

The film follows the mismatched couple H.I. (Nic Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter) McDunnough. He is a reformed convict whose specialty was sticking up convenience stores before he gives it up for Ed, the policewoman who falls in love with him while taking his mug shot photos. They’re as happy as can be, until they decide it’s time to start a family and they learn that they can’t conceive.

Meanwhile, famous Arizona furniture magnate Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) and his wife give birth to quintuplets, the “Arizona Quints.” During an interview, Mrs. Arizona jokingly says she wishes someone could take one of the babies off her hands, but Ed sees that as an invitation to do just that. She has H.I. break in and steal Nathan Jr., but both H.I. and Ed realize far too late that raising a child on the lamb isn’t exactly what they dreamed of, especially when you’ve got two crazy ex-cons and a dangerous bounty hunter on their tails.

It’s the colorful characters that make Raising Arizona as much fun as it is. Each one of them, from H.I. and Ed to John Goodman’s Gale and Randall “Tex” Cobb’s Leonard, falls into self-parody often, but I’d argue that’s the point. This is a preposterous story, and the only way to do it right is to go all out. There’s nothing subtle about the film or these characters, but the Coens and the great actors make everything very easy to follow and laugh at.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Coen Brothers film without some surprising twists and turns in the story, and on that front, Raising Arizona is truly unique. Sure, there are the normal twists in the plot that send the characters in surprising—and for the most part—fun directions, but there are also a few moments I’d call twists because they are genuinely tender and, as a result, very surprising. There’s a lesson here, and even though it’s be given to you by these outlandish folks, it hits home nonetheless.

There’s little else I can say about this film, really. It’s just a wild ride from start to finish, and though it’s not groundbreaking in the least bit, it delivers on the entertainment side of things in spades. If that’s what you’re looking for—and if you think you can handle the Coens at the peak of their absurdity—then Raising Arizona is a film for you.

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