I recently re-watched one of my favorite classic films, A Fish Called Wanda. I have always loved films like this, comedic crime thrillers that is. There’s just something about light hearted crime films that’s so much fun, of course stealing isn’t something that should be condoned in real life but films like this let you have a good time with something forbidden and revel in some naughty fun. And of course this talented cast helps us have fun with their exceptional performances. So why is A Fish Called Wanda one of my favorite film? Let’s talk about it….
Jamie Lee Curtis has always been one of my favorite actors, from Freaky Friday and True Lies to Halloween H20 and this film. She hasn’t portrayed this kind of woman very often in her career and I can’t understand why because she’s electric as the “sexy serpent” if you will. She plays a thief who often uses her charms to outwit men and get what she wants. Every detail about her character works, from her wardrobe to the way she uses her physicality to trick people. I love the energy she has while doing all this too. She revels in all of it and that’s what makes it all the more fun. Having a character that we would typically view as a bad person be so effortlessly likable is all part of the energy this film possesses. One of the big reasons we are able to find her likable is because of the other characters in the film. The men she outsmarts and has it in for are horrible human beings so we don’t feel bad about it, it’s almost impossible not to think they have it coming. One of those men is Kevin Kline, who plays her lover/partner in crime. Kline is an exceptional actor and really flexes his comedic muscles here.
Even though he plays a complete idiot in this film, worse than that, an overly macho idiot, you still love to see him. He’s obnoxious and rude and offensive but it’s all for comedy sake. He serves as a nice antagonist and has some of the funniest moments in the film. I really admire his ability to be so incredibly awful but still come off as funny and likable in a way, not all actors can pull that off. And if you don’t believe he’s great here, just ask The Academy because they awarded him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film.
John Cleese plays a man who Curtis’s character attempts to seduce for information she needs and he does such an impeccable job. Cleese has near perfect comedic timing and had me dying laughing at one scene in particular where he’s almost caught cheating on his wife. His character is also one of the likable ones and ends up being a sort of protagonist. Him and Curtis have really great comedic and romantic chemistry too. Cleese also wrote this film and I must commend him not only on the comedy but also the crime aspect. Everything is intertwined so well and we’re entertained the whole way through.
The double crossing and backstabbing makes the plot all the more interesting and it’s all done in a tongue in cheek light hearted manner. There is some physical humor, but the majority of the comedy comes from the script. I’m really glad the dialogue takes care of the majority of the laughs because I tire very easily of slapstick humor. It’s often overused and comes off as pretty lazy and cheap. A well written line that’s delivered effectively is a lot funnier to me than some goofy physical gag. It’s been my experience that the best comedies understand that and this one is included in that category.
If there’s any complaints I have for A Fish Called Wanda I’d say that one: one of the characters has a stutter that serves as a running gag and it’s over used. There are several instances where the stutter is used well and it’s funny but then they overuse it and it stops working. Also, Kline’s character, who’s overly masculine, has a running sight gag where he sniffs his armpit when he needs to “man up” if you will and I thought that was a sort of cringe worthy choice for him. Almost everything else about Kline’s comedy works here except that.
A Fish Called Wanda is a masterful blend of comedy and crime. The cast is able to shine because of their talent and they can rely on the well written script. If you haven’t seen this classic, I suggest you check it out!