INTOLERABLE CRUELTY opens as a husband (Geoffrey Rush) comes home early from work and learns his wife has had a sexual fling with a pool repairman. Slapstick silliness ensues and the marriage heads straight to divorce court. Though the wife has damaged the marriage, she selects Miles Massey (George Clooney) to represent her. Massey is considered the best divorce settlement attorney in the industry and he successfully twists and manipulates the story so that his client is quickly made a millionaire and the betrayed husband is left homeless and destitute.
Each case Massey handles is about infidelity, often documented through videotaped or private detective work, and the endless blows to marriage become intolerably cruel for the audience. Even so, Massey is bored and unfulfilled. He has reached his greatest goals, owns expensive toys (cars, jets, homes, etc.), yet feels unsatisfied.
Massey agrees to take the case of wealthy Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann), who is caught cheating on his wife Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Once again, though he betrayed his wife, Massey helps him to a victory where Marilyn is left with nothing. Now, however, he is smitten by the beautiful (and single again) Marilyn, and his infatuation with her begins to change his cynical view on love and marriage.
He decides to pursue her but is surprised to learn she has already found another wealthy prospect of a husband (Billy Bob Thornton). After a 30-day marriage scam, she dumps her new husband to claim half his net worth. Six months later, she meets Massey in Las Vegas and woos him to the brink of his sanity. A super-fast Vegas chapel marriage follows the all-important pre-nuptial agreement signing, and the newlyweds spend their first night together. Will the wealthier spouse suffer net worth annihilation or will love conquer all?
Many more hijinks and slapstick silliness ensue as INTOLERABLE CRUELTY moves faster than a divorce attorney’s court injunction. Later, an imposing thug named Wheezy Joe is hired to kill one spouse, then turned again to kill the other spouse. Then, the story veers toward absurdity again and the plot twists become more and more outrageous. It is all done for fun and hilarity’s sake, and much of it succeeds as comedy.
Clooney and Zeta-Jones are in top form here and their star power mutually shines. Were it not for them, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY would be intolerably insufferable. Clooney falls back on his southern-drawl-accelerated comedic timing by regurgitating a little of his hysterically funny O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? character, Ulysses Everett McGill. At the same time, he locks in Hollywood’s leading romantic position and yet has the ability, like Cary Grant in the ’40s, to laugh at his own caricature.
Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is positively radiant without even trying. She is more the “straight-man” to all the comedic silliness, but she floats above all the frenetic carnage without being scathed. When her self-assured and sensual character is finally pitted against Clooney’s Massey, there is little doubt about who will be vanquished.
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is a very funny movie about shallow, crass, selfish and greedy people. Yet, it is still the institution of marriage which takes body blows every ten minutes or so. Even when Massey becomes a love-convert and preaches to a very tough audience at a divorce attorneys’ convention, moviegoers will sense that it is just a matter of time before his newfound faith in love and marriage is dashed on the rocks waiting below. Betrayal, broken trust, and infidelities are not laughing matters, but this movie sadly presents marriage as the biggest joke.
Recognizing that the practice (or is it a sport?) of marrying for money may be commonplace in Hollywood, this movie is a little easier to stomach since Hollywood seems to be poking fun at itself. Thankfully, it does not pull out all the stops to smash marriage and family. On the contrary, it not-so-subtly implies that work and wealth are not in themselves fulfilling and life is far better when it can be shared with someone you love. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY tries to redeem its meanness with a sweetened solution and a not-unpredictable romantic conclusion, but then it resorts to laughing at marriage again in the end.
Though INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is a funny movie not grounded in anyone’s reality, extreme caution is still urged for the discerning viewer.
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SUMMARY: INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is about a clever divorce settlement attorney who meets his match in a beautiful gold digger who marries rich men for their money. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY moves faster than a divorce attorney’s court injunction, but it is still the institution of marriage that takes the body blows.
(H, RoRo, Fe, Ab, B, LL, VV, S, A, D, MM) Humanist worldview with strong Romantic elements glorifying divorce and multiple marriage-for-profit schemes, and anti-biblical themes surface as marriage, love, and trust are mocked, though movie implies that work and wealth are not in themselves fulfilling and life is far better when it can be shared with someone you love; 11 obscenities (one "f" word), six profanities, and eight blasphemies; moderate violence includes man hit on head with heavy object, then stabbed in rear with pointy lifetime achievement award (some blood shown on clothes), dogs chase men, many gunshots, killer hired to kill spouse, man shoots and kills himself by mistake; kissing, numerous scenes and storylines about implied infidelity, wife discusses husband's sex toys in courtroom testimony, and married couple has an "understanding" they can see other people; female cleavage and men and women in underwear; alcohol use; smoking; and, lying, betrayal, stealing, marriage-for-profit schemes, talk of elective surgeries, divorce promoted as "passport" to wealth, independence and freedom, and wedding vows expressing faith in each other's love, with no reference to God.
GENRE: Romantic Comedy