Intolerable Cruelty (2003). Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring George Clooney, Catherine Zeta Jones and Geoffrey Rush.
George Clooney harnesses the suave, seductive qualities of prime Cary Grant and combines them with the facial flexibility of 90’s Jim Carrey in the Coen’s scattershot, screwball satire on the marital industry, particularly the sheer oddity of the pre-nup, turning blissful romance into contractual jargon. Love and the legal profession aren’t compatible or comfortable bedfellows because love needs trust and truth – two qualities lawyers are not exactly renowned for – runs the story.
Classic Hawksian screwball is absolutely the destination here. Set in the gloriously sunny uplands of golden LA and shot through with an off the wall sense of humour and madcap energy this is a pretty fitting noughties homage to the genre – even if it can’t quite reach the giddy heights that forebears like Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and the really rather underrated Monkey Business had in abundance.
Clooney oozes sex appeal while mining a nice seam of vaguely post-modern comedy from heightened preciousness about his own status and appearance. Zeta-Jones manages to walk a pretty nice tightrope between endearingly, emotionally open femme and gold-digging romantic swindler. When the screenplay tightly focuses on the chemistry between these two, allowing them both to embrace the overtly cartoonish nature of their personas and run with it then there is a real comic energy propelling the narrative forward. Both stars appear to be revelling in the slightly, over-played emotion necessary to energise and fuel such a wacky tale.
When the focus slips from the romantic trials and tribulations of the leads the film enters much broader, more scattered and less amusing comic territory, events and characters seeming to exist for no other reason than to help patch together the narrative, providing a suitably twisty path for our heroes to follow back to each other.
For the most part it works well, both as an updating of the screwball genre and a dated but most pleasant reminder that not so long ago it was acceptable for mainstream Hollywood to be light, frothy and frivolous without any of the now ubiquitous dark underbelly.