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Nothing ‘intolerable’ in new Clooney romantic comedy
By Steve Liadis
Old Gold and Black Reviewer

October 15, 2003

Intolerable Cruelty: a fitting description of last weekend’s football game against Georgia Tech?  More like, the title of a stellar movie that opened this week.

Intolerable Cruelty, the latest effort of the writer/director combination of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, Raising Arizona), takes a cynical and wildly humorous look at love and marriage practices in America.  Though the film is markedly more mainstream than the Coens’ other works, it still delivers large doses of humor and insightful social observations.

Two of Hollywood’s biggest names, George Clooney (Oceans Eleven, The Perfect Storm) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Traffic, Chicago), make the movie come to life.

Clooney plays Miles Massey, a successful California divorce attorney. Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones), an ex-wife of one of his clients, soon gains Massey’s attention. 

Thus begins an unlikely love affair between two people who have amassed their wealth from failed marriages. Massey’s practice has been built on his legal work with divorced parties and Marylin has acquired a good deal of assets from a handful of unsuccessful marriages with wealthy men.

Surrounded by others who share similarly distorted views about marriage, neither character understands how they can be doing something completely irrational and risky as falling in love.

Most of the time, Clooney’s acting is excellent. There is a hint of smugness in his actions that fits the role perfectly. His performance is especially convincing during the courtroom scenes.

At some points, however, his gestures become wildly exaggerated and his character seems a little too over the top. Sometimes this is funny. Other times it’s too far-fetched and even a bit obnoxious. 

Zeta-Jones is as energetic and beautiful as ever in Intolerable Cruelty (reviewer scours at Michael Douglas). Her acting is compelling and portrays Marylin Rexroth as both a gold-digger and a seductive woman.

A number of other actors also turn in commendable performances. Clooney alone couldn’t have been expected to deliver every joke and these minor characters make major contributions to the movie’s humor.

Billy Bob Thorton plays Howard Doyle, an oil tycoon who has a brief stint as Marylin’s husband. Essentially, his character is a stereotypical rich, but classless southerner.  Still, Thornton’s Doyle feels fresh, not canned.

Paul Adelstein plays Wrigley, Massey’s loyal associate. Wrigley is a hilarious yes-man whose dedication to Massey puts even Mr. Smithers to shame.

The plot is clever and balanced. It remains plausible but not predictable.

The jokes are right on target. I laughed at some point in every scene. The dialogue was peppered with genuinely comical material and for the most part avoided resorting to slapstick or adolescent humor for cheap laughs.

Intolerable Cruelty never loses its focus as a romantic comedy. The plot and characters are well-developed, but a majority of the screen time is devoted to situational humor. Wisely, the filmmakers avoided the easy temptation of devoting more time to the affair between Miles and Marylin.

Because of this dedication, several scenes that could have easily fallen flat work out.

Clooney’s rather late career success and flashes of gentlemanly charm immediately bring up memories of Cary Grant (for those of you who also watch AMC).

Like The Perfect Storm and other recent Clooney flicks, this movie is entertaining and worth the price of admission. It’s not quite a classic, but it certainly isn’t a waste of time.

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Copyright 2003, WFU Publications Board. All rights reserved.