The veterans kick it up a notch

Joel and Ethan Coen have written, produced and directed some of the most quirky, droll movies of the past two decades, but “Intolerable Cruelty” is only their second flat-out screwball comedy.

Unlike their previous attempt at the genre, 1994’s “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “Intolerable Cruelty” takes place in modern-day Los Angeles, which Ethan says is a lot easier to shoot than a period piece. “You don’t have to create the world from the ground up, as we had to in our last couple of films.”

“Intolerable Cruelty” is the first time the brothers directed a script they didn’t originate (the story is credited to Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone and John Romano; Ramsey and Stone share screenplay credit with the Coens). This allowed the brothers to look beyond the stable of actors associated with their usual repertory.

“In almost every other movie we’ve done,” Joel explains, “we’ve had particular actors in mind when we wrote the parts. That wasn’t the case here.”

For the Coens, who’ve been nominated for their writing and directing (“Fargo” and the script of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”), the opportunity to work with new people was one of the pleasures of doing this movie.

In addition to onscreen talent that includes George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Geoffrey Rush, “Intolerable Cruelty” marks the first time the Coens have collaborated with producer Brian Grazer, best known for mainstream comedies like “Parent-hood” and “Liar Liar.” For Grazer, the combination of a romantic comedy with the Coens’ madcap irreverence creates a film that’s “very sexy and very unpredictable.”

The Coens’ unique touch can be seen in the oddball characters that populate the edges of the battle of the sexes between di-vorce lawyer Miles Massey (Clooney) and the beautiful, amoral divorcee Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones): Gus Petch, the cheerfully profane private detective played by Cedric the Entertainer, and Wheezy Joe, an asthmatic hit man whose inhaler is responsible for the movie’s biggest laugh.

Previous Oscar noms: Editing, Director (Joel), “Fargo” (1996); Adapted screenplay, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2001)
Oscar wins: Original screenplay, “Fargo”

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