The Coens Go For Some Intolerable Cruelty

After the failure to get To The White Sea out of dry dock, the Brothers Coen quickly delved into this dark romcom, which has been collecting dust on some shelf for eight years now. Despite previous rewrites by such talents as Oscar nominee Barbara Benedek and attracting such actors as Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Tea Leoni and Hugh Grant, only now will the film finally see the light of a Kino-Flo.

High powered divorce attorney Miles Massey is vaguely dissatisfied with his life and work, until he meets the beautiful Marylin Rexroth, whose husband Rex Rexroth he is representing in their divorce case (thanks to Miles, Rex gets everything, Marylin winds up with nothing). Appalled to learn that Marylin is about to marry the buffoonish but wealthy oil magnate Howard Doyle, and wants one of Miles’ ironclad pre-nups, Miles later has an epiphany about life and love and divorce and impulsively marries the suddenly available Marylin in Las Vegas. However, when Miles learns that Marilyn has duped him, he needs to work quickly to protect his suddenly unprotected assets and, helped by his junior associate Wrigley, prepares to go to rather extreme measures to neutralize Marylin. Eventually, though, both Miles and Marylin realize that, pre-nups and divorce settlements aside, marriage can be more than just an investment strategy.

So far, only George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones have been cast, as Miles and Marilyn. Shooting is scheduled to begin in Los Angeles on June 20, and producers are still looking for actors for the following parts (see if you can stop the Coen’s distinctive touch… oh, and don’t forget, this report may contain some spoilers. Continue at your own risk):

Baron Krauss Von Espy: A debonair man with a European accent, in an ascot with slicked-back hair and the suave good looks of an aging matinee idol, he’s a surprise witness Miles has brought in for the divorce trial of Marylin and Rex’s divorce. Holding a small Pomeranian dog, to whom he addresses endearments throughout his testimony, he’s a flamboyant man who likes to flaunt his worldly sophistication. The concierge at a European hotel, he shocks the courtroom by describing how years ago Marylin came to him asking to be introduced to a suitable dupable husband. Being a good concierge, provided her with Rex Rexroth.

Gus Petch: African American, a short, stocky, blue collar guy built like a bulldog, he’s an extremely efficient steamroller of a P.I. who barges in on erring spouses with a video camera, yelling his patented catch-phrase, “I’m gonna nail your ass!” Good at what he does and proud of it, Gus is very full of himself, and shows the videos of his latest assignments to his buddies during TV football games half-time. Pretty much for hire to anyone (he’s not above a little B&E for Miles Massey), Gus eventually winds up the host of his own TV show, America’s Funniest Divorce Videos, where the audience shouts along his catch-phrase with him.

Herb Myerson: The tough founder, resident genius and head honcho of the prestigious law firm Miles works for, he’s a small, ancient man in his 80s, still working despite being hooked up to an IV drip, who speaks in an old, dry, rasping voice, thickly accented from his long-gone Brooklyn boyhood. With no family, “the foim” is his life, and he counts his blessings in terms of billable hours; in fact, he gives Miles a moving speech of thanks for the sheer volume of bucks he’s brought into the business, calling him “the engine that drives this foim.” Later, when he realizes that Miles has apparently lost his mind over Marylin, Herb wastes no time in advising Miles how to straighten out a seemingly impossible situation.

Rex Rexroth: This wealthy middle-aged developer married to the beautiful, Machiavellian Marylin is a compulsive womanizer with a train fetish, who is panic-stricken when caught in flagrante delicto with another woman and thus forced to face the end of his marriage… and most of his assets. About to embark on a new mini-mall and mortgaged to the hilt, Rex is terrified that he’ll lose all his millions and be left with nothing if Marylin wins her divorce case against him; so he heads to the master, Miles Massey, in the hopes of convincing a jury that, as Miles puts it, “in spite of demonstrable infidelity on your part, your unoffending wife should be tossed out on her ear”. Amazingly, Miles pulls it off (though Rex comes off looking like an idiot in the process) and Rex is left to make even more millions and to party happily with many young women only too happy to cater to his train thing. Unfortunately, Rex dies in mid-party without having re-written his will, and his millions go to his now divorced wife, Marylin… which complicates the arrangements, legal and otherwise, made by Marylin’s third husband, Miles Massey.

Sarah Sorkin: This thrice married and extremely wealthy Bel Air divorcee is one of Marylin’s best friends, who’s taken the marriage-as-an-investment concept to impressive heights. Very busy with the meaningless daily grind of a filthy rich woman with no ties or responsibilities, Sarah has a huge fortune and an enormous, 40something room house all to herself… and she’s lonely. She’s too afraid of losing her assets to date anyone, she’s got an ulcer that’s driving her crazy, and she’s only too delighted to have the temporarily between husbands Marylin come live with her for a while… though she’s appalled when Marylin appears to have sympathy for her latest soon-to-be-ex, Miles Massey.

Wheezy Joe: A pockmarked, asthmatic Italian gangster of enormous proportions, he perspires heavily and breathes through his open mouth with the help of an inhaler. A pragmatic hit man of few words, he’s hired by a very nervous Miles and Wrigley to off Marylin, and assures a worred Miles that she won’t suffer… “unless you pay extra.” Ignoring Myles’s subsequent pleas to call off the hit, Wheezy Joe finds himself held at bay in Marylin’s house (actually, Miles’ former house) by her two Rottweilers as Miles and Wrigley show up to frantically urge him to stop the hit. Unfortunately, Wheezy Joe has a vicious asthma attack when Miles sprays him with Doggie-Be-Gone, and winds up pointing his inhaler at Miles and his gun at himself… and pulling both triggers. Think Luca Brazi from The Godfather.

Wrigley: A boyish, bespectacled junior associate at a powerful LA law firm that specializes in take-no-prisoners divorce cases, he works closely with the master, Miles Massey, and meets Miles’ seasoned cynicism with an admiring naivete and earnestness. A hard worker who’s not up to Miles’ thoughtful intellectual capacity, Wrigley, despite his job, has a huge sentimental streak and is moved to tears by the simple, down-home wedding of gold-digger extraordinaire Marylin Rexroth to the filthy rich Howard Doyle and he’s simply beside himself when Doyle, as a good faith gesture, literally eats the famously iron-clad pre-nup agreement written by Miles Massey. Moved by Miles’ romantic and financial plights, Wrigley’s a loyal soul who truly wants to see Miles happily married but, failing that, at least wants to see that in the dissolution of his marriage his assets aren’t, as they put it, exposed.

Produced by Brain Grazer and Ethan Coen, Intolerable Cruelty will arrive in theatres in 2003.