3/4, Arthur Hiller, Comedy, Review

The In-Laws

The In-Laws (1979) - IMDb

In some ways, this reminded me of Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three in that both have collected characters at their core who watch their control over their world fall away and descend into anarchy. They are ultimately both quite different, but the overall movement of the plot into madness recalled each other to me.

My only real problem with the film is how it begins. Knowing nothing of the movie when I started it other than the cover art, I was surprised to see a thriller-like heist take place. It’s not that I feel like comedies can’t start with heist-like sequence, it’s that I ended up feeling, as the movie went along, that our point of view character was Alan Arkin’s Sheldon. We should have started with him in the normal environment of his dentist’s office, met the crazy new father-in-law of his daughter who talked about giant flies carrying away children, and just thought of Vince as a weirdo along with him. After the first ten minutes or so, that’s exactly what happens, but the first scene showing Vince having a part in a heist of a US Treasury truck tells the audience that Vince is more than just a weirdo. It’s the wrong place to start.

From then, though, we do follow Sheldon as he decides to make the effort to connect with his daughter’s soon to be father-in-law and do him a small favor in the middle of a workday. That small favor ends up leading to Sheldon grabbing a bag from Vince’s ninth floor office, dodging bullets as he descends the fire escape to the ground floor, and running through foot traffic to avoid more bullets. Once he’s in for a penny, though, Sheldon is in for a pound. He gets implicated in the treasury truck robbery and needs to attach himself to Vince in an adventure that takes them from New York to a small South American country run by a mad general who talks to his hand and loves tiger paintings. The ending is absurd and funny and brings together a lot of what came before.

My favorite bit in the movie is something that almost feels extraneous, though I think it is the perfect encapsulation of where Sheldon is at that moment. On the plane to South America, Sheldon is sitting in the back of the small aircraft with Vince flying and two Chinese people with little explanation. James Wong proceeds to explain the safety procedures of the aircraft but entirely in Mandarin with exaggerated hand gestures while Sheldon can interpret little of it. He simply watches blankly as he tries to disassociate from the events around him. Wong’s funny performance combined with Arkin’s Buster Keaton-esque reactions was hilarious.

It’s a funny movie and a fun adventure that escalates towards its ending. I chuckled through most of it, laughed out loud occasionally, and enjoyed the experience. I just wish it had started differently.

Rating: 3/4

3 thoughts on “The In-Laws”

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