For Reel

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
October 27, 2015, 5:35 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Charles Crichton
3.5 Stars
A Fish Called WandaA Fish Called Wanda pits American brashness against British civility, vulgarity against apprehension. The last film directed by Ealing Studios veteran Charles Crichton (whose The Lavender Hill Mob was a defining masterpiece for that studio), it is a unique artifact that suggests a genre both in transition and one that was battling itself. In the mean-spiritedness of the gags–where humiliation is often key to the humor–Crichton is predicting the Farrelly brothers (a running joke involving dogs being a key example). As a cultural touchstone, then, the film is fascinating, although it often falls short of what one wants it to be. For example, John Cleese’s straight man seems too limiting. His exasperation in Monty Python sketches often generated the biggest laughs, and here he’s reduced to passivity when faced by the biggest moron of all in Kevin Kline’s Otto. And, if Kline’s performance is the most memorable of the film (it is a tremendously accomplished vocal performance–one remembers his exact inflections as much as his physicality), it also comes from a different stratosphere than the rest of the cast. Regardless, there are enough laughs to save the material, and the film’s use of vulgar language is downright masterful.

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