Intolerable Cruelty - Northern Illinois University by qingqing19771029



•   In classic Coenian fashion, Intolerable Cruelty is an absurd, postmodern, slapstick, screwball
    comedy – arguably their most extreme expression of this theme.
•   Like in their other pictures, they use misunderstanding and scheming characters who get in
    over their heads.
•   They have different characters repeat key phrases, revealing the picture’s ultimate meaning:
    “I’m gonna nail (his) your ass,” “You’re exposed!”
•   As in Barton Fink (1991) and The Big Lebowski (1998), this film is also set in Los Angeles
    where we meet a cavalcade of the bizarre characters who inhabit the southland.
•   As Lebowski was the second picture in their film-noir trilogy with Miller’s Crossing (1990) and
    The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) as bookends, Cruelty is sandwiched between O Brother,
    Where Art Thou? (2000) and No Country for Old Men (2007) in their idiot trilogy.
•   Why is Miles Massey an idiot? He chooses the legal profession. He chooses divorce law. He
    chooses fame, fortune, and glory. He chooses to fall in love. All of these stupid choices lead to
    his undoing.
        George Clooney as Miles Massey

•   Famous LA divorce attorney.
•   Cynical, greedy, vain, amoral, narcissistic yet insecure buffoon obsessed with his
•   Inventor of the “Massey” prenup, which is an iron-clad pre-marital agreement
    protecting the assets of both parties in case of divorce.
•   So unscrupulous that he also invents stories to ensure that his clients win such as in
    the film’s opening when he helps Bonny Donaly ruin her husband’s successful TV
    career and kick him to the gutter.
•   What drives the famous and rich Massey? The game itself: “the ultimate destruction
    of [his] opponent.”
•   Massey resembles other shyster, soulless portrayals of attorneys such as Jim
    Carrey’s Fletcher Reede in Liar, Liar (1997) and Al Pacino’s John Milton in The
    Devil’s Advocate (1997) – can you do any worse than be the devil?
•   Does the “lawyer-as-shyster” portrayal effect the public’s view of lawyers?
           Catherine Zeta-Jones as
   Marilyn Hamilton-Rexroth-Doyle-Massey

• Cynical, greedy, vain, amoral, walking man-trap, serial divorcee.
• Following in the footsteps of her other famously rich, divorced, LA ex-wives,
  she requires a rich husband so that she can make hammer on his fanny.
• What drives Marilyn and her female friends? Why do they want to marry for
• Ultimately, we learn that women are duplicitous, gold-diggers—never to be
                  Tom Aldredge
                 as Herb Myerson

• Grotesque, superannuated monster
  without intestines who lives on a feeding
  tube and endlessly intones statistics about
  billable hours and summary judgments
• Lesson: if you work really hard at being an
  attorney, this could be you…
         Julia Duffy as Sarah Sorkin

• She sits around her mansion sipping drinks, scheduling hair
  appointments and plastic surgeries, and watching her hunky hired help
  do the yard work: “My goddamn husbands gave me the ulcer.”
• When Marilyn suggests that she could see people, she responds:
• “It’s risky. Palimony. Son of a bitch Marvin Mitchelson. I’m telling you,
  honey, getting laid is financial Russian roulette.”
• Marvin Mitchelson was a celebrity divorce attorney who invented the
  term “palimony” when he helped Michelle Triola sue actor Lee Marvin for
  monetary compensation after their non-marital relationship ended.
  Mitchelson went on to become THE relationship-attorney to the stars. On
  her fifth husband, Zsa Zsa Gabor said: “He taught me housekeeping.
  When I divorce, I keep the house.”
                SNL’s Weekend Update
             “Point-Counter-Point” on Triola

•   Dan Aykroyd: I'm station manager Dan Aykroyd. During the past few weeks in
    Los Angeles, actor Lee Marvin and his former live-in companion Michelle Triola
    Marvin have been in court to settle her claim that he owes her half his income
    from the six years they lived together. That is the subject of tonight's Point-
    Counterpoint. Jane will take the pro-Michelle Marvin point, while I will take the
    anti-Michelle Triola counterpoint. Jane?
    Jane Curtin: Dan, times change and so does the nature of relationships. People
    are reluctant to get married these days and looking at divorce statistics, who can
    blame them. But the lack of a piece of paper does not necessarily mean a lack
    of a total commitment. A woman in this modern-day relationship may well give
    up all her personal pursuits, as Michelle Marvin claims she did, to give her full
    support to her man's career. And Michelle Marvin is just asking that the courts
    recognize that reality. Dan, there's an old saying: "Behind every successful man
    there's a woman." A loving, giving, caring woman. But you wouldn't know about
    that, Dan, because there's no old saying about what's behind a miserable
        SNL’s Weekend Update “Point-
          Counter-Point” on Triola
• Dan Aykroyd: Jane, you ignorant slut! Bagged-
  out, dried-up, slunken meat like you and Michelle
  Triola know the rules. If you want a contract, sign
  on the dotted line. Oh, but let's all shed a tear for
  poor Michelle Triola. There was only testimony
  that she had sexual intercourse over forty times
  with another man while living with actor Lee
  Marvin. But I suppose that sort of fashionable
  promiscuity means nothing to you, Jane, who
  hops from bed to bed with the frequency of a
  cheap ham radio. But hell hath no fury like a
  woman's scorn, and Michelle Triola, like a
  screeching, squealing, rapacious swamp sow is
  after actor Lee Marvin's last three million dollars.
  I guess what you and Michelle are saying is that
  when you're on your backs, the meter is running.
  Well, please spare us, gals, and tell us the rate's
  at the top. Then we can choose which two bit
  tarts and bargain basement sluts to shack up
                       The Players
• Rex Rexroth – rich, adulterous, train-lover.
• Freddy Bender – Boring, successful,
  attorney who is easily outwitted by Massey
  even though Massey did not clerk for a
  Supreme Court justice.
• Gus Petch – Every attorney needs a good
  private investigator and when Gus Petch
  finds an ass, he nails it!
• Judge Marva Munson – Totally
  disinterested and disengaged: she’s going
  to allow it…
• Heinz The Baron Krauss Von Espy –
  steals the movie as the star witness in the
  Rexroth hearing.
• Howard D. Doyle – Tight End, Texas
• Wheezy Joe – His asthma ultimately does
  him in.
                                     Love Stinks

• Massey is similar to film noir’s morally ambiguous
  protagonists – he knows better than to fall in love with
  the femme fatale yet he cannot help it and we know
  better than to fall for the “wrong” ones yet we do it too..
• Love an marriage is portrayed as the highly commercial
  business it has become in our postmodern world:
   – from the garish wedding of John D. Doyle and Marilyn where you
     bring a berry spoon for a gift to kitschy-kilt Vegas nuptials with
     bagpipes blaring
   – from prenups to divorces;
   – from fancy suits, teeth-whitening procedures, and Beverly Hills
     offices to mansions, chiseled gardeners, and botox injections.
       Divorce Law

• The film portrays fault-divorce and women benefiting
  financially from quickie marriages. Yet for 40 years, no-
  fault divorce and community property have nullified fault-
  finding and minimized the adversarialism depicted in the
  picture in the vast majority of divorce cases.
• Still, in situations involving one party as the breadwinner
  and the other as the homemaker, division of assets is not
  so clear—particularly when big money is at stake.
• Even though judges have long split marital estates equally
  in working-class and middle-class divorces, at the time of
  this film, that result was virtually unheard of in mega-
Mega-Divorce: Then
    •   For example, in 1997, Lorna Wendt, the ex-wife of a
        former General Electric executive, made headlines
        merely by asking a Connecticut judge for half of Gary
        Wendt’s $100 million fortune. Though they were high-
        school sweethearts and married for 32 years she was
        the homemaker while he was the breadwinner. Lorna
        Wendt testified at the trial that her contributions to the
        marriage were as valuable as the paycheck her
        husband brought home, and that while she ran the
        household and raised the Wendts' two daughters, she
        also worked side by side with her husband as an
        adviser, business hostess, traveling partner and
        representative to various charitable and community
    •   He offered her $11 million. She refused. A judge
        awarded her less than she sought, but still about $20
        million: a multimillion-dollar house in Stamford,
        Connecticut and a house in Key Largo, Fla.; $252,000
        a year, payable in equal monthly installments of
        $21,000; half of all stocks, bonds, cash and mutual
        funds in 19 accounts; and memberships in the Ocean
        Reef Club in Key Largo and the Stanwich Club in
    •   Lorna Wendt has taken her crusade to the masses at: Why? Because she,
        like others, feel that the “enough-is-enough” standard
        that judges use to award less than half of the assets
        to the economically dependent spouse is unfair.
               Mega Divorce: Now

• So why did the Coen’s take on this topic at that time? Because
  films are contextual and reflect the time they are made in. Enough-
  is-enough, mega-rich divorce, was a relatively new and growing
  issue in American at the time.
• Indeed, in October 2006, a Chicago judge awarded half of energy
  Entrepreneur Michael Polsky’s $352 million fortune to his
  homemaker wife after 31 years of marriage. The judge ordered that
  Michael gets the $7 million home in Aspen, Colorado, the $2.9
  million residence in Chicago, and the $2.1 million home in East
  Troy, Wisconsin. Maya gets the $2 million home in Glencoe and
  the $3.7 million home on Lake Shore Drive. She also gets various
  investments and case and keeps the May Polsky Gallery, valued at
  $305,000. The judge also divided millions more in paintings,
  jewelry, rugs, and other home furnishings.
          Legal Satire

• Divorce law is skewed as far as possible in order to stress the absurdity of
  the legal process: the law is supposed to ensure fairness and justice yet it is
  wholly arbitrary and totally unjust.
• Attorneys (Massey, Myerson, Bender, and the Judge) are ridiculous
  caricatures of what we would hope for: engaged, fair, and honest.
• The Massey prenup is so groundbreaking that they spend an entire
  semester on it at Harvard – yeah right! Maybe an semester on family law but
  not even an entire semester on divorce law…
• Millionaire Massey tells the other successful divorce attorneys that “love is
  good” and they give him a standing ovation – nothing could be further from
  the truth.
• Through over-the-top satire, we learn that legal actors and the legal process
  are flawed.
                                            Satire as Indictment

•   The Coen’s want to tackle the issue of love/marriage/divorce because there are
    currently 20 million divorced people in American, up from 4.3 million only three
    decades ago and mega-divorce is an increasingly important issue.
•   Everything about the film is absurd, unreal, and therefore reflective of our postmodern
•   The film is an indictment of the holy trinity of “real” institutions that nearly every
    American aspires to:
       1.   love, relationships, marriage
       2.   fortune, wealth, materialism
       3.   celebrity, fame, status
•   Ultimately, if you are able to see the Coen’s trampolining cartoonishness as a
    cinematic device you recognize the larger point: only idiots attempt to attain these false
    goals and the price they pay is inevitable betrayal and revenge.
•   Hence, aspire to any or all of the holy trinity at your own peril… caveat emptor…

•   Atkinson, Michael, “Enemies, a Love Story,” The Village Voice, October
    8-14, 2003.
•   Bradshaw, Peter, “Intolerable Cruelty,” The Guardian, October 24,
•   Knowles, Harry, “Intolerable Cruelty Review,”,
    October 8, 2003.
•   Palmer, R. Barton, Joel and Ethan Coen (Urbana, IL: University of
    Illinois Press, 2004).
•   Tweedle, Paul, “My Review,”
•   Quinn, Anthony, “Hollywood Does Divorce,” The Independent, October
    24, 2003.
•   Walsh, Sharon and Devon Spurgeon, “Executive’s Wife Awarded Half
    of All Assets,” Washington Post, December 5, 1997.

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