Wayback Wednesday: A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Does this ever happen to you? Every once in a while you see a movie and go, “wait, THIS is the cast? He’s in it, she’s in it, and they’re in it too? I absolutely need to see this!” This phenomenon has happened to me when I found out the casts for Soapdish (1991), The First Wives Club (1996), and America’s Sweethearts (2001). Sometimes a compelling cast are all you need to be drawn in by a movie. It also happened the first time I found out who was in A Fish Called Wanda (1988). John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, AND Kevin Kline? I’m so in! This fabulously funny cast are comedy gold and my second time watching this comedic classic only reminded me of just how amazing they are. There’s a lot to like about A Fish Called Wanda but this wonderful cast are what always keeps me hooked.

Credit: imdb.com / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / United International Pictures

A Fish Called Wanda follows Wanda, Otto, and Ken, a gang of diamond thieves who all double-cross each other in an attempt to find the hidden diamonds stashed away by their gang leader. Doing everything she can to find the diamonds, Wanda starts up a fake relationship with Archie, their gang leader’s barrister, further complicating the group’s web of lies.

A Fish Called Wanda is one of those movies that I had only seen once years ago, but I always remember being blown away by how fun it was. How could it not be? You have the aforementioned cast, a premise rife with hilarious potential, and a screenplay written by Cleese himself! Obviously years of writing Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969 – 1974) and Fawlty Towers (1975 – 1979) episodes more than equipped Cleese for writing the comedy aspects of A Fish Called Wanda, but the movie shines also as a crime caper as well. It’s a genuinely thrilling and engaging heist movie that doesn’t get the same recognition as other movies in the genre. Sure, it never reaches the mind-blowing action of say, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – by the way, check out my review for that movie, here – but A Fish Called Wanda is a solid adventure in its own right.

Filled with deception, disguises, and dastardly deeds, this is a heist movie that deserves to be checked out be anyone who’s a fan of the genre. It really is a winning combination of crime and comedy. One minute you’re engrossed in the sly schemes cooked up by the unscrupulous cast of characters, and the next you’re busting a gut laughing at their antics. Of which, there are plenty. A Fish Called Wanda never loses steam and makes sure that every scene is sure to feature at least one stand-out joke or moment. By the way, did you know that someone DIED during a screening of this movie? They had a heart attack that may have been caused by an increased heart rate due to extended laughter. Now THAT’S a testament to the quality of your movie.

Part of what makes A Fish Called Wanda such a hilarious movie is the variety of humour it features. It ranges from silly slapstick, to dark wit, to zany eccentricity, pulling off a blend of humour that only an English production team could pull off. The Brits have an uncanny knack for making the dullest, or the darkest topics memorably hilarious and A Fish Called Wanda is no exception. Court hearings are turned into laughably loony situations, an affair escalates the movie from one ridiculous level to another, and the joke of dogs getting squished proves to be one that never gets old. I know. It sounds terrible, but I promise that it’s totally goofy and not at all gross. The farcical tone of A Fish Called Wanda is made clear from the beginning and the movie never loses that fun, fresh, fast, feeling for the entirety of the movie. Speaking of fast, the movie’s pacing is one of its high points for me. The movie flies by, not wasting a single minute of runtime on anything unnecessary or that doesn’t add to the overall story or entertainment value. Damn, those Brits really know how to put a movie together, don’t they?

Of course, the hands-down greatest part of A Fish Called Wanda are the performances. First of all, you have Cleese. The man never fails to put a smile on my face. I have such a fondness for Cleese because I grew up with him watching hours and hours of Fawlty Towers during weekend visits to my grandparents. As Archie Leach, Cleese plays the bumbling barrister with the same befuddlement, and blithering bad luck as Basil Fawlty. Cleese uses every trick in his well-versed comedy tool belt and the results are just as uproariously funny as expected. Michael Palin, Cleese’s fellow Monty Python’s Flying Circus alum, is responsible for just as much a laugh-riot as Cleese.

Kline, as the pompously dim-witted Otto West, is just as, if not more, wonderfully wacky. As usual, the actor gives his performance 100 per cent. His performance is so fantastically frantic and practically buzzing with comedic energy, that it’s hard to tear yourself away any time Kline is on screen. You can never predict where the actor is going to take the scene, but rest assured that whatever Kline does with whatever scene he’s given, he delivers comedy gold. His performance is so masterful int fact, that this role ended up winning him an Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar! One of the few times comedy has been recognized by the Academy! Of course, if you want to talk about award-worthy performances, look no further than Jamie Lee Curtis. As the titular Wanda, Curtis plays a cunning, cutthroat femme fatale in one of her most iconic roles. Curtis is mesmerizing to watch. Her character is constantly lying, putting on wildly different personas, and adapting as the ridiculousness of the story builds, which is remarkable to watch. She changes on a dime and is great at flowing and improvising whenever the story calls for it. It’s a role that showcases Curtis’ wide range as an actress and lets her play with all the toys in the acting toybox. This is heavyweight acting and Curtis is utterly phenomenal.

A Fish Called Wanda is awesome. Whether you’re drawn in by the comedy, murder, sex, or outrageous 1980s fashions, I promise you won’t be disappointed. This movie will always be catch of the day.

Have you seen A Fish Called Wanda?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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