Editorial

A Literal Look: Joel and Ethan Coen’s RAISING ARIZONA – Dramedy at its Finest

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Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, with whom I’ve maintained a “surreptitious” mentoring relationship with, are my favorite writers of the comedic tragedy. Not only is their work a perfect balance of comedic writing, the brothers are experts in magnifying comedy in “real-time” that features “real-people” in a situation based comedy. Raising Arizona is an absolute Coen brothers’ classic, and its success is due to the brilliant comedic cues within the screenplay. Let’s review one scene in the film and screenplay, As they are many, below will outline just one of the scenes where HI and ED has just abducted baby Nathan Jr.:

ED

WHICH ONE YA GET?

AS HE GETS INTO THE DRIVER’S SEAT:

HI

I DUNNO. NATHAN JR., I THINK.

ED

GIMME HERE.

HE HANDS HER THE INFANT, THEN HANDS HER THE COPY OF DR.SPOCK’S

BABY AND CHILD CARE.

HI

HERE’S THE INSTRUCTIONS.

ED

OH, HE’S BEAUTIFUL!

HI NODS AS HE PULLS AWAY FROM THE CURB.

HI

HE’S AWFUL DAMN GOOD. I THINK I GOT

THE BEST ONE.

ED IS GUSHING AND KISSING THE BABY THROUGH THE REST OF THE

CONVERSATION.

ED

I BET THEY WERE ALL BEAUTIFUL. ALL

BABIES ARE BEAUTIFUL!

HI

YEAH. THIS ONE’S AWFUL DAMN GOOD

THOUGH.

ED

DON’T YOU CUSS AROUND HIM.

HI

HE’S FINE, HE IS. I THINK IT’S NATHAN

JR.

ED

WE ARE DOIN’ THE RIGHT THING, AREN’T

WE HI? – I MEAN, THEY HAD MORE’N

THEY COULD HANDLE.

HI

WELL NOW HONEY WE BEEN OVER THIS AND

OVER THIS. THERE’S WHAT’S RIGHT AND

THERE’S WHAT’S RIGHT, AND NEVER THE

TWAIN SHALL MEET.

ED

BUT YOU DON’T THINK HIS MOMMA’LL BE

UPSET? I MEAN OVERLY?

HI

WELL A COURSE SHE’LL BE UPSET, SUGAR,

BUT SHE’LL GET OVER IT. SHE’S GOT

FOUR LITTLE BABIES ALMOST AS GOOD AS

THIS ONE. IT’S LIKE WHEN I WAS ROBBIN’

CONVENIENCE STORES –

Joel and Ethan Coen ‘Raising Arizona.’

Where is the dramedy?

1. When Hi hands Ed the infant along with a copy of Dr. Spock’s baby and child care book then refers to the book as “instructions.”

2. The quick parentage adaptation and moral assertions arise the moment Hi cusses in front of the baby and Ed “corrects” him on his inappropriate speech in front of the child—even though the baby was kidnapped and biologically not their own.

3. When Ed all of a sudden realizes the significance of what has happened begin to be concerned about the birth mother’s reaction to the kidnapping. Hi quickly reassures her that the mother will “get over it” because she has four other that are almost as good as the one he kidnapped.

The significance of that plot point where the viewer observes the kidnapping, and what Hi and Ed have done is indeed a punishable crime in the “real world.” What makes it funny are the character’s rationale of why it was necessary to kidnap one of the babies from the Arizona’s household. This is the exact moment in the film, where the new “situation” or stage two of the screenplay occurs.

In the second act, something must absolutely happen to the protagonist or “hero.” Viewers going along with Hi and Ed during their kidnapping exploits solidifies their desire to have a child. The scene turns into an actual goal where the specified end, result, motivation and outcome must always benefit the hero.

So do not feel ashamed or embarrassed in the slightest if you cheered when Hi was successful in his endeavors.

There are more than one point combination for realism and comedy in the film: a cop marries a criminal; cop aiding and abetting a child kidnapping; for more poignant realism to top it off—the very realistic child endangerment aspect of the story.

To reference Andrew Horton’s Laughing Out Loud tip #7:

“Comedy thrives on details, for details reveal the contradictions and celebrate the incongruities that bring on laughter” (Horton, 2000) p. 15.

Raising Arizona, the film and script teems with plot details and humor. From the moment Hi and Ed find out about the Arizona quints—their plans to “adopt” one of them is set into motion the moment Ed, short for Edwina, states “They’ve got more than they can handle.”

Think about it: the dramatic realism of the statement “more than they can handle,” catapults viewers into the real possibility of multiple births, does it not? The thought of caring for more than two kids is enough to encourage a bead of sweat to dribble from a forehead or two.

The logical words “child” and “kidnapping” are thrown into a “comedic loop,” when Hi and Ed questions whether or not they are doing the right thing.

Rationale: “They’ve got more than they can handle.”

“They” and the viewing audience, by the time all’s said and done, may also believe it to be so.

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Source: Raising Arizona Screenplay, Laughing Out Loud: Writing the Comedy-centered Screenplay

 

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Sandy Hoffman

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