Main cast: George Clooney (Miles Massey), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marylin Rexroth), Cedric the Entertainer (Gus Petch), Edward Herrmann (Rex Rexroth), Paul Adelstein (Wrigley), Richard Jenkins (Freddy Bender), and Billy Bob Thornton (Howard D Doyle)
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Trust the Coen brothers to offer a rather perversely twisted romantic comedy that features a slick and less than scrupulous lawyer and a gold-digging femme fatale. Intolerable Cruelty is a welcome change from the usual dreck churned out by Hollywood under the guise of “romantic comedies”. However, this movie feels like an incomplete product and I feel somewhat dissatisfied when I’m done watching it.
Miles Massey is a very successful lawyer that specializes in winning property and financial disputes between divorcing couples. He first encounters Marylin Rexroth when he represents her philandering ex-husband Rex. He manages to expose her gold-digger motives and destroys her sympathetic façade, causing her to lose the case. Privately, she vows that she will get a new rich victim and fleece him, only this time she will make sure that there is no way her victim will wiggle out of her trap. The next time she and Miles meet, she is about to marry Howard D Doyle, a rich oil tycoon, and she wants Miles to draw up a massive pre-nup agreement. Puzzled, Miles wonder what she is up to even as he is attracted to her cool demeanor. When he attends her wedding and witness how Howard is duped into tearing up the pre-nup agreement and swallowing the pieces in his show of love to Marylin, he falls straight in love with her even as he applauds her ingenuity.
George Clooney overacts a little at first as Miles Massey, who all but preens on the screen. But he soon settles down into a more acceptable pace that makes Miles a convincing yet seductive snake that could sell ice to eskimos. Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t have to do much other than to look sexy and mysterious, but she manages to make her role more interesting that what is written on the script. Her Marylin is simultaneously cold and ruthless as well as vulnerable and lonely.
The problem with this movie is that the Coens don’t trust me to like Miles and Marylin without forcing some contrived scenes down my throat, scenes where Miles and Marylin all but declare that they are not that bad, they are just lonely and misunderstood. Oh please, the cutthroat personality of these characters are what make me enjoy watching them so much, so the blatant attempts to redeem these characters only weaken the movie. The ending feels very rushed, but even more unsatisfying is the fact that these characters are completely mutated into lovelorn ducks by then instead of the fun and amoral couple they were in the beginning.
Still, Ms Zeta-Jones and Mr Clooney have some great sparks – although one can argue that Mr Clooney can have great chemistry with his co-star even when he’s paired with a doorknob – and some of the banters here are first-class fun. Despite the unsatisfying resolution of the movie, Intolerable Cruelty with its attempt to fuse 1930s-style romantic comedy with the Coens brothers’ bizarre and morbid sense of humor is worth a watch.