Tommy Trojan

October 10, 2003
vol. 150, no. 32

USC Logo
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.

Contributing Writer

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 stationary racquet.

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 unconvincing) romance.

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 it.

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 wife.

The Count however, comes off as an annoying blend of Richard Simmons and Pépé LePew, his flamboyancy almost as thick as his accent.

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 office.

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.

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