May Divorce Be With You
Creative partnerships can often be a fraught experience (as we here in the reviewing bunker are
probably just about to discover for ourselves) but one duo who have met with conspicuous success in
their filmic undertakings over the last fifteen years or so are the brothers Coen, who've released a
series of movies covering many genres, but have managed to put their own inimitable imprimatur on
everything they've touched.
And now, in what many have pegged as a straightforward grab at mainstream success, they're had a
crack at one of the most popular and successful genres of the modern era: romantic comedy. The film in
question is Intolerable Cruelty, although to be fair it also incorporates elements of screwball
comedy and farce.
Long-time 24LAS favourite George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a shysterish whiz of a
divorce attorney (the merest mention of the D-word in a rom-com betrays that this is a bit of a
departure from the norm). Separating innocent cuckolds from all their worldly possessions is losing its
appeal for Miles, but he perks up when he is retained to aid the divorce proceedings of millionaire Rex
Rexroth (Edward Herrman) against his wife Marylin (Catherine Zeta Jones). Instantly drawn to his
client's soon-to-be-ex, Miles nevertheless does the decent thing and diddles her out of the settlement
she's been eyeing up all along. But Marylin is not so easily defeated and before too long, she's back in
his office, asking a rather dismayed Miles to handle the pre-nuptial agreement for her forthcoming
marriage to oil baron Howard Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton)...
Now, on paper this sounds rather mainstream for the Coens (seeing their names at the end of this
film's trailer was a real surprise) and it's safe to say the brothers have restrained their usual
quirkiness a bit. This has been loudly bemoaned in some quarters, but we're by no means unconditional
fans of their work and we found this a very agreeable fusion of arthouse sensibility with mainstream
This manifests itself via a smart, cynical, witty script that's quite willing to go from sophisticated
verbal interplay to slapstick sight gags in the space of a few moments. Some of the humour is quite
broad, but none the worse for that. In fact, for much of its length Intolerable Cruelty almost
had us suckered into believing it was about to turn into a typically saccharine modern rom-com, as
Clooney gets up and makes a speech in public about how wonderful Love is that's possibly even more
sickly than anything Richard Curtis has written (which is saying something). However, this isn't the
case, and the movie retains its bracingly unsentimental view of the subject almost to the end.
Clooney gives another marvellously Cary Grantish performance - it's hard to think of another
current leading man being so willing to look foolish - even if he perhaps goes a bit over the top in his
clowning around towards the end of the film. Here in the bunker we're divided over how genuinely
talented Catherine Zeta Jones is, but she looks sleek and gorgeous enough and, as an ambitious and
beautiful woman who's married a much older man solely for her own advancement, is probably shrewdly
cast. Geoffrey Rush provides a funny cameo and there's a nice supporting turn from Paul Adelstein as
Clooney's hapless sidekick.
For some reason, though, this struck us as a rather insubstantial movie - it has a very distinctive and
memorable tone and style, and some of the jokes will stay with us for a good long while, but it does seem
terribly frothy and lightweight. Sometimes that's all one expects from a movie, especially one aimed as
unerringly at the dating audience as this one, but given the calibre of the talents involved it's a shame
they couldn't have come up with something a bit more memorable.