#65 A Fish Called Wanda
(1988, Charles Crichton)
“Wanda, do you have any idea what it’s like being English?”
So, this was written by John Cleese and stars both him and Michael Palin. Monty Python movie, right? Very, very wrong. Remember Fargo? Well, this is basically the British version. Only less violent. And it’s not entirely British since Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis are in it and they’re definitely playing Americans. You know what, forget it, none of this comparison is working.
A Fish Called Wanda is a comedy crime caper set in Britain. A jewel heist is planned by George Thomason (played, amusingly, by Tom Georgeson), who enlists his associates Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Otto (Kevin Kline) and Ken (Michael Palin) to assist him. The heist goes successfully, but each member of the heist has their own plan with what to do with the loot. George hides the loot, Ken hides the key, and Wanda and Otto set up George to be arrested. After his arrest, Wanda hatches a plan to seduce his barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese) to try and find out where to find where the loot’s been hidden. Cue a whole bunch of shenanigans.
When the movie started, I was a little confused about what was going on, and didn’t find anything particularly funny. It’s a very slow burner to begin with. It’s only once the heist has happened and the surreal string of events begins to unravel that the humour really starts to kick in. Characters go from seemingly competent criminals or lawmakers to bumbling fools and then the magic happens.
Curtis is the real star here, playing a sly, yet equally fallible con-woman desperate to get her hands on expensive jewels for the wealth they’ll bring her. She was consistently likeable, even though on paper her character should have been horrible. Kline is pompous and annoying, but that’s the whole point. You will want to punch him in the face constantly, but then so do most of the other characters. As for Cleese and Palin, their comic timing is just as fantastic as it was back in their Monty Python days. However, their general lack of screen time together means there’s very little in the way of a reminder to the Argument Clinic or Dead Parrot sketches from Flying Circus, which is actually kind of a shame, but never mind.
The jokes are very well executed for the most part. There’s a series of scenes where Palin’s character has to murder a witness, and in the process keeps murdering her dogs. You know what’s going to happen, especially since it’s been set up that Ken is an animal lover, and yet when it happens, it’s still always funny. There are moments where jokes fall a little flat, usually with Kline or Curtis, but this may be due to American actors attempting to pull off British humour successfully. They succeed for the most part (I especially laughed at Wanda’s “this is why you’re stupid” speech) but there are times where they wobble and things feel more awkward than funny.
However, it is well-scripted. With Cleese writing the jokes, he’s drawing on years of comedy experience and doing it well. The film also feels a lot better structured than some of the Monty Python movies (you may remember this being part of my criticism for Holy Grail), which may be down to the fact that Cleese was no longer vying for attention amongst five other writers and was able to focus his story a little more. It’s especially impressive, what with all the subplots and various shenanigans going on, that everything holds together as well as it does.
A Fish Called Wanda is a hugely entertaining movie. It’s a little rough around the edges, but ultimately it’s easy to have a great time watching this. I highly approve.
Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline & Michael Palin
Written by John Cleese & Charles Crichton
Produced by Michael Shamberg
Music score by John Du Prez
Cinematography by Alan Hume
Edited by John Jympson
Favourite Scene: The aforementioned dog scenes. Yes, there are three, one for each dog. And while they all follow the exact same formula, they all end up being hilarious.
Scene That Bugged Me: Many of the early scenes feel rushed and unfunny, and could potentially put off viewers.
Watch it if: You can’t get enough John Cleese
Avoid it if: You think this is an animated kids’ movie about talking fish
Originally posted on Blogspot Tuesday 13 March 2012