Top 10 comedy films – an alternative list
No. 8 – Fargo
Number 8 is not a straight comedy, and not one of the Coen Brothers films routinely celebrated as their best comic work, but as someone who’s never been convinced by either The Big Lebowski or Raising Arizona I’m plumping for Fargo, a film which I enjoyed more than either of those and which does more interesting things with comedy.
One reason to nominate Fargo is its influence on subsequent films and in particular television series (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, the Fargo series). It pioneered a mix of comedy and often violent drama, where the tone of the comic scenes differs only minimally from the more serious and sometime shocking moments.
The other striking feature is the range of comic devices it uses. Chief among these are the Minnesota nice accent
and the increasingly brutal range of misfortunes which befall Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi, in the quintessential Steve Buscemi role), from dealing with an uncommunicative partner in crime and an overly-officious car park attendant to beatings, being shot and worse.
The most interesting comic feature of the film is Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). She is the hero and clearly the smartest person on show, but at same time she’s an innocent, a hick and in some respects a comic figure. It wouldn’t be quite fair to say that the film makes fun of her, but it has fun with her good-naturedness, and with the fact that she outwits every other character, no matter how cynical they may be. This is most clearly demonstrated in the lecture she delivers to Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare):
There are no funny lines in this scene, and Marge’s homily does not come across as ridiculous: everything she says is correct, and true to her vision of the world. It just sounds funny when delivered to a man she had a short while ago found stuffing his former accomplice into a wood chipper. By placing her homespun wisdom in that context, but in no other way undermining it, the Coen Brothers manage to have their cake and eat it too.