A Fish Called Wanda-1988
Starring-Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis
Scott’s Review #1,013
Reviewed April 20, 2020
A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an intelligent and witty British-American comedy that was a sleeper hit upon its release garnering critical acclaim and awards affection. The heist flavored production has good comic timing and brisk acting. I adored it not quite as much as most critics though admirable is the quick wit and energetic timing, to be respected in comedies. With some silly moments thrown in that feel staged and unnecessary the film is not as brilliant as some would say and not a memorable entry in the comedy genre.
A crooked foursome, all from shady backgrounds and manipulative tendencies, come together to commit the heist of the century. They are about to get away with it until the London police arrests one of them. Can the other three now on the lam persuade their comrade’s lawyer to reveal the stolen loot’s location? Will they double-cross each other in order to find stolen diamonds that the gang leader has secretly hidden?
The players are con artist Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), Otto West (Kevin Kline), her lover pretending to be her sibling, George Thomason (Tom Georgeson) and his right-hand man, Ken Pile (Michael Palin), an animal lover with a stutter. Each has their own personal motivations while relying on the others to get what they want, presumably at the other’s expense as events escalate to dire urgency.
The film gets props for being different. Frequently, in the comedy genre, laughs are attempted at a dizzying speed so that often they do not feel fresh. They also usually contain stereotypical or stock characters who serve little purpose other than to move events along at the sake of character development. A Fish Called Wanda is quirky to say the least with some intelligently written dialogue and sequences, especially the reveal of where the key to the safe deposit box containing the diamonds is housed. The film’s title is a major clue.
The chemistry between the actors is the best part of the film, especially between Kline and Curtis, two actors with exceptional comic timing. As they spar and bicker and plot not just against each other but against the others they are in cahoots with, the antics get wilder and wilder. Kline was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and victory. His character of Otto is also the most developed.
The final sequence which takes place at Heathrow Airport in London is a fun wrap-up to the caper. A gun, a steamroller, and wet cement are key elements in the wacky finale as character run rampant inside the airport and on the airport tarmac as an airplane is about to take off for parts unknown. Many other scenes take place about London since that is where the film was shot.
Where the film loses me, a bit is with very little sense of meaning of the subject matter. The group are con-artists, or otherwise unsavory characters, but little more. There are no characters to root for or empathize with and the events that transpire are quite silly and superfluous. While the story is fun, what is really the point? All the characters manipulate each other but that is it.
Going against the grain in cinema is always appreciated and the comedy genre is too often stagnant and trite, rarely feeling fresh. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an encouraging project that dares to offer new and inventive gags and physical comedy. The film hits some high marks and strikes out with some portions, leaving an uneven result.
Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Charles Crichton, Best Supporting Actor-Kevin Kline (won), Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen