A Fish Called Wanda ★★★

“You English! You think you're so superior, don't you? Well you're the filth of the planet! A bunch of pompous, badly dressed, poverty stricken, sexually repressed football hooligans!”

On a first glance, it might seem somewhat difficult to discern what separates A Fish Called Wanda from any number of similar, small-budget English comedies of the same vein. On the surface, it seems no less dynamic, noteworthy or even particularly more amusing than any half-baked obscurity of its era. And yet, for some reason, A Fish Called Wanda has attained a level of international clout and respect that has otherwise eluded, arguably, better projects (some of which feature some of the same team of creatives). 

So what is it about this picture that captured the zeitgeist of 1988 in the way it did? The obvious, superficial answer might lean towards the reunion of John Cleese and Michael Palin on a new comedy feature but that seems unlikely to me because this is hardly similar to their previously acclaimed absurdist works. Then perhaps the appeal lies in the concept of a heist gone wrong and the extreme shenanigans attempted to correct the course. It could be although I’m sure there are any number of screwball classics from the ‘60s with similar premises. I can think of a few Pink Panther films that are reasonably close enough. What are the fresh ideas that A Fish Called Wanda brings to the table?

Not really any but, for me, that is not where the appeal lies. What made Wanda a pretty enjoyable watch for me was simply in the execution. The set-ups are textbook and the punchlines expected but this is some of the most expertly crafted situational, cringe comedy I have seen on the silver screen of its day. A lot of this success can be attributed to the actors, of course, who are all on the top of their respective games. Jamie Lee Curtis is a joy to watch and her moments of quiet sincerity balance out the wildly over-the-top Kevin Kline very nicely. While John Cleese is by no means a strong character actor, it is nice to see him play against type in this film. Instead of his trademark arrogant, insensitive Fawlty persona, Leach is a much more sensitive fall-guy which is a nice contrast. Palin is my favourite of the four though. His sub-plot is probably the most twisted and absurd but good god is it funny and he really sells that role. It’s an awesome part. 

Is A Fish Called Wanda a must-see classic? Probably not. I cannot really bring myself to lean so far but I did enjoy the ride. If you like British comedy and situational humour, check it out.

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