“Flies have beaks?”
This was the line when I knew this movie had me.
‘The In-Laws’ is a 1979 action/comedy starring Alan Arkin and Peter Falk with the former playing an uptight dentist and the latter a shady character who seems to be involved with a U.S. Treasury heist. Two men with nothing in common except Arkin’s daughter is about to marry Falk’s son and these two potential father in-laws are meeting for the first time a few days before the wedding. What could go wrong?!
‘The In-Laws’ is wonderful and for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s funny as hell and it’s the kind of humour that creeps up on you. The film starts, relatively, straight forwardly and seemingly realistic but then as events unfold it becomes increasingly sillier and funnier until we’ve left any semblance of reality far behind. This is pretty unique as with many action/comedies the comedy tends to take a back seat in the third act to the action and plot. That use to annoy me a lot as a kid where I’d see so many movies having to pause or abandon the comedy because they had to tie up everything else or have the big action climax. Whereas ‘The In-Laws’ just gets even funnier as it goes on until I was, literally, crying with laughter by the third act. It has been a while since a movie has made me laugh that hard, that cathartically.
What’s also impressive, and nice, about the film is that it achieves this without sex, violence or swearing, something that nearly every other action/comedy relies on to either fire it up or pack more gags in. And that can be done really well such as in ‘Midnight Run’ or the wonderful ‘Freebie and The Bean’ where a lot of the laughs come from the profanity and cynical violence. ‘The In-Laws’ has none of this and while this means that some of the early scenes can feel a little like a family friendly sit-com (a bit harsh of me but it helps illustrate the point), when you “get” the film’s tone, and certainly by the end, this lack of cynicism means the film is infused with absolute charm and you just adore these two idiots.
The script is also a joy focusing almost totally on the chemistry between the two leads rather than contrived plots or structure. This film has a looseness that lets the comedy have more room and breathing space also resulting in the viewer genuinely never knowing what the hell is going to happen next. I’ve seen so many producers making comedy writers re-write scripts or sketches and telling them it’s all about the plot not the laughs. Structure a tight, taut story and only then put the gags in. I’ve never quite bought into this having seen great ideas get crushed or drained of life by pointless tinkering and producer interference. I’ve certainly always preferred dialogue and characters to plot when I’m writing so it’s so refreshing to see a film have those as the focus. There is a plot here but it’s not why you’ll enjoy this film.
Alan Arkin and Peter Falk are both great in ‘The In-Laws’. I’ve been a big fan of Arkin since watching ‘Freebie and The Bean’ on repeat as a kid and he’s as good, if not better, in this and if you’re a Falk fan you’ll love him here. And, once again, there is an almost show-stealing turn from the excellent James Hong. I love this man. Every film he is in he just lifts everything to another level, whether it’s as Lo Pan in ‘Big Trouble in Little China’, Mr Ping in ‘King- Fu Panda’ or the Chinese restaurant manager in Seinfeld. I was curious to see what he’d do in this and if he’d be funny and he did not disappoint with a fantastic sequence that occurs just when the film is really flying off into another level of silliness.
As with nearly all comedies not every gag works but those are very few and far between. It’s also down to the viewer trying to get a handle on the tone and settling into to just how daft this movie is. And there is so much daftness here and I’m trying my hardest not to spoil any of the jokes although the dinner scene with Arkin’s dawning realisation of Falk’s possible insanity, the art collection and, I’ll just say this one word “Serpentine!” had me on the floor.
‘The In-Laws’ is great and is the style of comedy I love — loose, fun, charming and incredibly silly — and it has the best indicator that it’s a great comedy: it is one of those comedy films that when I was in bed last night afterwards going to sleep I was chuckling away for ages as I remembered all the funny moments. When a film does that to you you know it’s good.