Film nearly ‘Intolerable’
|Courtesy of Universal Studios|
|Love-hate relationship. George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in “Intolerable Cruelty,” a witty comedy about two resistant lovers. Zeta-Jones plays a rich divorceé.|
By AARON FULLERTON
The advertisements for "Intolerable Cruelty"
that have been plaguing television of late make the film appear to be the
Coen Brothers' big commercial venture.
Joel and Ethan Coen, the ones behind such oddball
masterpieces as "Raising Arizona" and "Fargo," are known for the eccentric
and anti-formula approach that they bring to their projects. Fortunately,
the Coen touch permeates almost every scene (and several characters) in
"Intolerable Cruelty." However, it doesn't work very well.
The basic premise of the film revolves around Miles
Massey, played with a casual urgency by George Clooney, who is one of the
best divorce lawyers in all of Los Angeles. But he's empty inside; his
professional and financial success bring him no fulfillment.
He spends sunny afternoons on his tennis court, six
inches from the net, letting balls from a machine bounce against his
Enter Marilyn Rexroth, the gold-digging wife of one of
Massey's clients. She is a heartless vixen with a desire for
"independence." Miles decides that Marilyn (played with a removed boredom
by Catherine Zeta-Jones) is his answer to happiness. And that's where
things start to go bad.
Miles and Marilyn live in the world of "Joe
Millionaire," where love is all well and good, but a bursting pocketbook is
pure ecstasy. Though Miles does dabble in his infatuation with Marilyn, the
main motivation for these characters' actions is filling their bank
accounts. When the characters are so inherently shallow, it's difficult to
tell a good love story.
Every time Miles and Marilyn flirt, it's unclear whether
they're acting for love or money.
This makes for enjoyable comedy, but lackluster (and
With the characters pursuing each other for all the
wrong reasons, Clooney and Zeta-Jones have little chance to explore their
chemistry. This may be for the best, however, since the few scenes in which
the two attempt to display their chemistry actually expose their lack of
Clooney can usually heat up the screen with anybody,
from Julia Roberts ("Ocean's 11") to his very best, Jennifer Lopez ("Out of
Sight"). Zeta-Jones, however, seems to be preoccupied and mostly unaffected
by Clooney's sly grins and literary quotations.
The movie is certainly not all bad. As a comedy about
the "sacred and binding" institution of marriage and the laws that
accompany it, "Intolerable Cruelty" is bitingly clever.
The opening scene is especially funny, as a cuckolded
Geoffrey Rush, having the time of his life, unsuccessfully attacks his wife
and their dim-witted pool boy.
Massey is also much more fun to watch inside the
courtroom as he carefully molds the truth to his benefit. Billy Bob
Thorton, always a hoot, is great as a seemingly susceptible heir to an oil
fortune. And in true Coen Brothers fashion, one of the funniest moments
occurs because of an accidental suicide.
Speaking of a penchant for the offbeat, the silliness in
"Cruelty" goes overboard on occasion.
For example, Miles relies on a witness, the Count Baron
von Espy, to help Rex Rexroth keep his millions away from his scheming
The Count however, comes off as an annoying blend of
Richard Simmons and Pépé LePew, his flamboyancy almost as thick as his
Also, when Massey's monetary future is in sudden
jeopardy, he doesn't hesitate to contact a hit man.
Though we aren't meant to consider these creatures
rational, they should not be unrealistic. "Intolerable Cruelty," with its
stars, its premise and its comedic flair, will likely succeed at the box
However, it will only lead people to embrace the
notion that love and money are so thoroughly intertwined that soon, it will
be unnecessary to distinguish between the two.
Copyright 2003 by the Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.
This article was published in Vol. 150, No. 32 (Friday, October 10, 2003), beginning on page 16 and ending on page 15.