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Film / Arizona Dream

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"If you believe in your dreams, you could be sure that any force, a tornado, a volcano or a typhoon, wouldn't be able to knock you out of love; because love exists on its own."
Axel
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Arizona Dream is a one-of-a-kind surrealist, Magic Realism film which meanders between a love story and a spirit quest, directed by Emir Kusturica and released in 1993.

Axel (Johnny Depp) is a fish tagger in New York who would be content to spend his days communing with his fish, wanting for nothing. But his buddy Paul (Vincent Gallo) is determined to drag Axel away to Arizona to attend the wedding of Axel's uncle Leo (Jerry Lewis). There, Leo is intent to persuade Axel to work alongside him at his Arizona Cadillac dealership.

Axel finds himself sticking around when he meets Elaine (Faye Dunaway) and her daughter Grace (Lili Taylor), and enters a lopsided love affair with the former while dealing with distractions from the latter.

The whole cast generally mills about aimlessly like this. So does the story. Bizarre things happen. Then more bizarre things happen. And so on.

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Tropes:

  • Antagonistic Offspring: Grace to Elaine.
  • Black Comedy: The dinner scene is the peak example. Probably the most hilarious slapstick attempted suicide ever filmed.
  • Bookends: The story opens and closes with scenes of Eskimos.
  • Call of the Wild Blue Yonder: Elaine is obsessed with taking to the sky almost to the exclusion of all else. She conspires with Axel to build a number of unsuccessful flying machines, before finally getting an airplane delivered for her birthday.
  • Cast Full of Crazy: No need to follow an actual plot. Just sit back and watch the manic wind-up toys bounce off the walls and flail at each other.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Zigzagged. Most of the cast handles a gun at one point or another. Some of them even get fired.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Take your pick.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Axel's narration is pure philosophic existentialism, using fish metaphors.
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  • Dressing to Die: Grace takes pains in picking out her outfit before heading out in the thunderstorm.
  • Driven by Envy: Both Elaine and Grace take turns exploding whenever Axel switches his attention from one to the other. Elaine and Leo also get into a power struggle over Axel.
  • Happier Home Movie: Axel and Leo watch these together, while Axel's narration fills us in on the family history.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Leo runs one of these.
  • Incessant Music Madness: Grace and her accordion. Doubles as Madness Mantra since she keeps playing one song and seems to get more unhinged the longer she plays. Later the Mariachi band shows up to play at the birthday party and plays continuously to the point where everyone's tuned them out.
  • Large Ham: In-Universe, Paul is an aspiring actor, so he almost can't go two minutes without referencing or imitating a film, even to the point of jumping up on stage at the movie theater and acting along with the film on the screen behind him. Out-universe, the whole cast screams and rants. Faye Dunaway scores at least an 8 on the Mommie Dearest scale.
  • Magic Realism: Done nimbly. A couple characters levitate, symbolic animals are roaming about, and there's that flying fish and the bookend dreams, but the rest of the story keeps its feet on hard ground.
  • Mood Whiplash: We go from Russian Roulette to a light-hearted talent show to Leo having a heart attack in about five minutes.
  • Naughty Under the Table: Up to Eleven. Grace and Axel, as well as Elaine and Paul simultaneously engage in this in different ways (the former couple closer to inncoent Footsie Under the Table due to Axel's resistance, the latter more akin to R rating due to Paul's assertiveness, though not exactly onscreen).
  • Only Sane Man: Axel is pretty eccentric on his own, but compared to the loony bin full of oddballs around him, he comes off as our sole voice of reason.
  • Polka Dork: Grace spends half her screen time playing The Streets of Cairo over and over on an accordion. It becomes just one more way to troll everybody while she thinks of more ways to keep the attention on her.
  • Professional Slacker: Paul claims several past acting gigs, but it's hard to believe he's ever actually seen a day's work in his life.
  • Random Events Plot: From beginning to end.
  • Running Gag: Paul acts out the infamous crop-duster scene from North by Northwest at a talent show. Later, he gets to play it out for real.
  • Russian Roulette: As foreplay.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Figures into a showdown between Elaine and Leo.
  • Shout-Out: Paul, the aspiring actor, is the source of most of these referencing The Wizard of Oz, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, North by Northwest, The Godfather Part II, and Raging Bull. He also sings a snatch of The Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun" while driving Axel out of New York.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Paul lives it. At a talent show he even berates the judge panel for their low rating of him.
  • Source Music: A four-piece Mariachi band is hired to perform at the birthday party. They play tirelessly throughout the day while everybody mostly forgets they're there.
  • Turtle Power: Grace keeps a family of pet turtles. She's obsessed with them to the point where she states the desire to be reincarnated as one.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Leo's wedding is the impetus for the story, and his new bride gets a couple scenes. Then the wedding fades into the background of the story and is scarcely mentioned again.

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