If Blood Simple announced the arrival of Joel and Ethan Coen with a bang, this one served notice that you were never going to be sure what they might come out with next. Could two films by the same authors be further apart? Blood Simple was slyly funny, but very, very dark; this one is laugh-out-loud hilarious. I’ve never talked to anyone who didn’t like it a lot.
This was Holly Hunter’s first starring film role and she totally nails the quirky character of police officer Edwina “Ed” McDunnough, who is wooed and won (entirely during the times she is taking his booking photo) by hapless, sad sack, multiple-time-loser Herbert I. “Hi” McDunnough, Nicholas Cage, who also hilariously narrates. They find she can’t have children. (“Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.” He talks like that all the time.) Meanwhile, the wife of Nathan Arizona, the unfinished furniture king, has quintuplets. Ed reasons they’d hardly miss one, and she and Hi set out to take one. Just one. Is that so bad?
The rest of the movie is madcap antics as Hi and Ed battle two of Hi’s escaped convict friends, John Goodman and William Forsythe, and the biker from Hell, Randall “Tex” Cobb, and their wife-swapping neighbors, including Frances McDormand. It is all deliberately WAY over the top, with people bursting into tears without warning, yelling maniacally, spouting wonderfully philosophic lines. Tex’s bike leaves a trail of fire on the highway, and he seems to be invisible some of the time. Is it symbolic? Who cares? It’s funny on just about any level you want, from wry satire to out-and-out slapstick. Where else are you going to hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony picked out on a banjo and yodeled?
And it has one of the funniest final lines of any movie I know. (SPOILER WARNING!) Here is Hi’s final speech, made while a series of dream images shows on the screen, and considerably shortened:
That night I had a dream. I dreamt I was as light as the ether— a floating spirit visiting things to come. … I saw an old couple being visited by their children, and all their grandchildren too. The old couple weren’t screwed up. And neither were their kids or their grandkids. And I don’t know. You tell me. This whole dream, was it wishful thinking? Was I just fleeing reality like I know I’m liable to do? But me and Ed, we can be good too. And it seemed real. It seemed like us and it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away. Where all parents are strong and wise and capable and all children are happy and beloved. I don’t know. (short pause) Maybe it was Utah.