Raising Arizona — 1987 — dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen brothers are known for their quirky storylines and even more offbeat characters. From slacker bowlers to crazy playwrights, they always keep their dedicated fans guessing. Although their stories and senses of humor don’t appeal to everyone, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose interest wasn’t at least piqued by the idea of Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter kidnapping a baby from the family of a local unpainted furniture giant to raise as their own.
Before he threw himself into the cause of stealing the Declaration of Independence, Nicolas Cage started off stealing babies. Cage, who rocks a crazy combination of mustache and sideburns, along with hair to rival the style he sported in 1983’s Valley Girl, plays Herbert I. McDonnough, an ex-criminal who goes by “Hi.” He meets Edwina, whose nickname is “Ed,” at the police station—she took his mug shot every time he was arrested. Once the couple is married and moves into a mobile home, their next challenge is having a baby and starting a family. After many failed attempts, Ed learns that she’s barren. This shocks Hi, who thought that she was “as fertile as the Tennessee Valley.” In the middle of their grief, the local news runs a story about the Arizona Quints, five children born to the Arizona family. Their father, Nathan, is the owner of Unpainted Arizona, “the largest chain of unpainted furniture and bathroom fixture outlets throughout the southwest.” When his wife, Florence, jokes about how the Quints are too much to handle, Hi and Ed jump to the only logical conclusion that anyone else would—they’d be doing the Arizona family a favor if they took a baby off their hands.
Having the option to choose between Harry, Barry, Larry, Garry, and Nathan Jr., Hi picks Nathan Jr. and he and Ed decide to rename him Junior, until they can think of something better. Shortly after two of Hi’s newly escaped prison buddies who felt that jail had no more to offer them, Gale and Evelle (John Goodman and William Forsythe), come to visit the new family, they get two more visitors, Glen and Dot. They have five kids of their own, and their entrance into the movie is when things begin to get even crazier. Throw in some pomade, a bounty hunter, and a married couple of swingers to the kidnapped baby and oddly formed marriage, and you’ve got a story that could only come from the minds of the Coen brothers.
With appearances by Holly Hunter as Ed and John Goodman as one of Hi’s friends from prison, the Coens begin their tradition of hiring the same actors for the majority of their movies. Although Cage wasn’t granted this same deal, he carries Raising Arizona with his drawling voice and wild eyes, well-timed sense of humor, and ultimately, dedication to his family. Hi means well, and although the majority of time things don’t exactly go his way—the same could be said for Cage himself—he’s still willing to run away from police and a pack of neighborhood dogs while being shot at just to get a bag of diapers for his son.
Going along those lines, although it’s toeing the line very closely, Raising Arizona is probably the closest thing to a family movie that the Coens will make. The McDonnoughs are an extremely dysfunctional family, but at the same time it’s easy to feel for them. Upon hearing the synopsis of the movie for the first time, I’d be the first one to think that this might not be a movie with any trace of comedy in it, but it’s easy to be proven wrong with the offbeat humor and action sprinkled throughout.
Glen tells Hi that it’s a crazy world out there, and Hi responds with, “Someone oughta sell tickets.” With Cage wearing a pair of pantyhose over his head trying to evade police and a pack of neighborhood dogs, all while being shot at, I’d definitely buy tickets for a world created by the Coen brothers.