Viking Night: A Fish Called Wanda
By Bruce Hall
May 28, 2013
A Fish Called Wanda still enjoys almost universal acclaim, so it's hard to find many people over the age of 30 who haven’t seen it before. In fact, I'm pretty sure I know people who haven't seen it who say they have, because nobody wants to be the only person in the room who doesn't get what everyone thinks is so funny. So imagine my combination of horror and anticipation when my significant other told me she'd really never seen this movie before. Previous plans for this week's column were unceremoniously scrapped, and I retrieved a certain battered, disused DVD from the depths of my personal collection. Someone needed my help, and I wasn’t about to sit idly by when I could be making popcorn instead.
However, the situation brought to mind a sobering possibility - few First World problems are worse than exposing someone to something you love and not only finding them unimpressed, but discovering it hasn't aged as well as you'd anticipated, either. I've seen A Fish Called Wanda about a dozen times, but they were all during the 20th century. What if it wasn’t funny anymore and the hairstyles looked stupid? Would I succeed in indoctrinating a new fan, or would this go down like the disastrous Young Ones incident of 2003? My pop culture cred was on the line and as we watched, her stoic expression gave me pause. My God...what had I done?
So, you ask - did she like it, or not? And how have I enjoyed sleeping on the couch? All those questions and more will be answered in due time but first, a recap of the film.
A pair of London jewel thieves named George (George Thomason) and Ken (Michael Palin) are planning a jewel heist, and since a good heist requires an equally good crew, they decide to outsource the roles of “buxom tart" and “categorically insane sociopath" to a pair of Americans named Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline). The robbery goes off with a hitch, but the Yanks aren't in a sharing mood. Otto turns in George, but not before the latter manages to move the loot and hide the key. Once they discover this, the Americans visit him in prison, anxious to find out how much the police know. Not much, it turns out. George won't talk but there's a witness to the crime, and (To Otto’s amusement) Ken has marching orders to take her down. It does not go as planned.
Meanwhile, Wanda attempts to seduce George's lawyer to find out where the jewels are, and their relationship ultimately forms the core of the film.
Unfortunately, Archie Leach (John Cleese) is married - to his grueling law practice and a domineering wife. Throw in a shrill, entitled daughter and it's not hard to consider Jamie Lee Curtis your plan B. The problem is, finding the jewels is taking longer than expected and as George's trial draws near, tempers are starting to flare. (Deep breath) George knows he's been sold out but still trusts Wanda, who's secretly having an affair with Otto, who she plans to double cross after she's done swindling Archie, who doesn't realize the prosecution witness is being stalked by Ken, who holds the secret of the diamonds, and has such a crush on Wanda that he's named his favorite pet after her. Also, Archie's marriage is imploding and every time he tries to hook up with Wanda (the girl, not the fish), something hilariously improbable happens that prevents them from sealing the deal.