The Coen Brothers' Comedy about Baby-Kidnapping, "Raising Arizona", is Light and So Much Fun

Raising Arizona

This post is written as part of the series "the films of... Joel Coen and Ethan Coen".

Like you might have wondered, the word Arizona in the title refers to two things: the baby’s name and one of the US states. And, yes, in “Raising Arizona”, the duo auteurs are playing with babies. This is a comedy that—I can say—guarantees that you’re gonna laughing, even if there are (always) subtle philosophical messages in it. It is light, if not foolish, comedy that you can enjoy without having too much of a thinking.

What I’m gonna write as a synopsis for “Raising Arizona” is similar to what the first 10 minutes of the film is gonna tell you—yes, it takes about 10 minutes for the opening credit to start, not because of the film starts complicated, but because it has to describe its characters very stylishly. So we have H.I or often called Hi (Nicolas Cage), a recidivist that eventually marries Ed (Holly Hunter), a police officer that often manages him. After the happy wedding, they have to face the fact that Ed cannot conceive a child. But they are so desperate for a baby, that when they hear that Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), the furniture tycoon in town, just has a set of quintuplets, they plan to kidnap one of the babies so they can raise the baby by themselves. But, can they?

Raising Arizona
So this is the baby they kidnapped.

Again, Joel and Ethan Coen tells their story in the wild west—in this case, Arizona—so we’re gonna served with Western accent in every dialogue. Which I find interesting, because it makes the dialogue—that has already been a part of the black comedy coming after—more characterized and styled. Even more: it’s not getting more “cowboy” before the gunshots take place (yes, there is an epic one around the mid part). And with the presence of Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe)—Hi’s friend in jail—or the Harley-riding biker (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb)—whose identity is revealed in the end (yet does not make me any pleased)—the nuance is getting bleaker.

“Raising Arizona” is a real fun. The accent has already amused me, mind you. Characters are eccentrically written, like always, and catchphrases are also there to spark up the details. There is no problem with the baby they kidnapped: the problem lies in both Hi and Ed. They are not prepared for having a child, and this turns into nice laughs throughout the film. Well, some might say that most of the comedy comes from any forms of stupidities from some characters, and I agree with that—but I just have to highlight that the treatment is an effective one. 

Raising Arizona
Just accept that a recidivist COULD marry a police officer.

But don’t you forget that this is a Joel and Ethan Coen production. And you know their habit: there should always be something that hangs around the edges of your brain, even if what they made is a laughing-out-loud kind of comedy. Like in “Raising Arizona”. Other filmmakers might just end the film soon after viewers have lost control of their laughs, but not with the Coens. Instead of just closing the show, they tend to play with the philosophical substance of the story. It lengthens the duration for like 5 minutes (and surely diminishes all cherishes that already built up since the beginning). It’s not that what they add around the ending is unnecessary, but it does not really round up with the entire story.

Or, perhaps it’s because the chemistry between Hi and Ed is not sufficient to produce some sort of heart-warming moments—that might have a connection with the philosophical stuffs. Nicolas Cage nicely portrays such a bad guy with big responsibility as a dad, but he’s better only in doing the stupid (and, in the end, funny) parts. Holly Hunter is more emotional; she gets the essence of a mother in dilemma—having a baby or getting back the baby they kidnapped. But they are not really... connected. In the other hand, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Randall Cobb, Sam McMurray, and Frances McDormand are essential in bringing more spices to the comedy recipe (I even ask why McDormand’s show time was so short).

Raising Arizona
They should give Frances McDormand (right) more screen time: she's an attention-stealer.

Maybe because Joel and Ethan Coen know that without their trademark “Raising Arizona” might only be a fun but forgettable film, so they insert more thoughts into this non-brainy black comedy. At least, I did laugh and enjoy “Raising Arizona” even without its further thoughts. Nothing to concern about the story because, in the end, it is a nice, rather-formulaic comedy to bring laughs.

Raising Arizona

3.5 out of 5 stars

 ▲  Fun and brings good laughs
 ▼  Philosophical messages are a bit distracting.

RAISING ARIZONA | COUNTRY USA YEAR 1987 RATING n.a. RUNTIME 94 min GENRE Comedy, Crime CAST Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, William Forsythe WRITER Joel Coen, Ethan Coen DIRECTOR Ethan Coen (uncredited), Joel Coen MORE INFO

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