This 2003 romantic comedy film is that rare Coen Brothers project based on someone else's idea. The original screenplay was written by Robert Ramsey and Matt Stone (not that one), then touched up by the Coens. Ramsey and Stone had shopped it to Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme before the Coens got on board. Perhaps because of this, it seems a little out of place among their other films (not that a Coen Brothers romantic comedy wouldn't already seem out of place).
Miles Massey (George Clooney) is a hotshot Hollywood divorce attorney whose prenup is the industry standard ("They devote a whole semester to it at Harvard Law"). He takes the case of Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann), and despite video evidence that Rex has "a wandering pee-pee", Miles wins the case, and plaintiff Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is left with nothing.
Or is she?
Tropes used include:
- Accidental Suicide: Wheezy Joe begins to have an asthma attack during his struggle with Miles and mistakes his gun for his inhaler.
- Animal Reaction Shot: "Does Elsbieta want some bones?"
- Arc Words: "I nailed his ass." (Or, "faire un coup de marteau sur des fesses".) Or, how you say, make hammer on his fanny.
- Artistic License Law: Early in the film Marilyn says she spent several years to shore up her claim to Rex's money. When she marries the fake oil billionaire, she says she's going to give it a few months before divorcing him, so she can show she tried to make the marriage work. But when she marries Miles, even though he realizes it was a sham within hours, it's treated as a given that Marilyn will get half his assets and she's able to force him out of his own house.
- Ate His Gun: Wheezy Joe. By accident. To elaborate the accident was confusing his inhaler with his gun and shooting himself in the face.
- Backing into Danger: Plays the comedic version dead straight with two lawyers armed with pepper-spray stalking around a darkened house. The moment they enter the house you know what's going to happen...
- Beleaguered Assistant: Wrigley to Miles.
- But I Play One on TV: In-universe. Miles discovers that Howard Doyle is not the real deal but rather just an actor when he sees him playing a doctor on a soap opera on TV.
- Eternally Pearly-White Teeth: One of the first times we see Miles, he's talking on a cell phone in the back of a town car; his face is in shadow but his upper teeth stand out brightly. Justified, in that he had just come from having them whitened. He also compulsively checks his teeth before every important meeting.
- Fun with Acronyms: National Organization of Marital Attorneys Nationwide, or N.O.M.A.N. Their slogan is even "let N.O.M.A.N. put asunder..."
- Funny Foreigner:
- Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy. "Silly man. I am a Baron."
- To a lesser extent, Geoffrey Rush's bit part as a larger-than-life Australian TV director.
- Gold Digger: Marilyn and all of her friends.
- Hollywood Law: In America, if you were in your spouse's will before, but the two of you divorce later, the part of the will that left his/her property to you is automatically nullified. Also, one party's adultery is irrelevant, as divorce law is now no-fault in California and the rest of the US.
- Home-Early Surprise: The film producer returns to his plush LA home in his smart convertible and finds the van of the local maintenance man in his driveway. He enters the house and heads for the bedroom, only to find a freshly vacated marital bed. A comedic fight ensues as the lovers enter the scene. After the fight people dash away in their cars. This scene is obviously a Shout-Out to Mulholland Dr..
- Irrevocable Order: The lawyers find they cannot reach the killer they hired.
- Kansas City Shuffle: Miles thinks that Marilyn is marrying and then divorcing Howard Doyle for his money. It turns out that Howard is just an actor, and the "marriage" is a ploy to fool Miles, her real target, in thinking that she's rich.
- Lady in Red: Marilyn, during the casino scene in which Miles really falls in love with her.
- Men Are Childish: In the words of Gus Petch:They never grow up, they just get tubby.
- Ominous Legal Phrase Title: The phrase intolerable cruelty is used in the law of divorce.
- Opening Theme: Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds"
- Overly Long Name:
- "Your honor, I call Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy" "Call Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy!" "Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy!" etc...
- Also, Marilyn herself, who adds the surnames of her ex-husbands to her own name. Wheezy Joe asks "is that one person?"
- The Plan: Marilyn's plan to defeat Miles. (Anything involving Billy Bob Thornton is going to be complicated.)
- The Pollyanna: Wrigley, a divorce lawyer who cries at weddings. Massey name-drops the trope when he enthuses about the "berry spoons" he bought Marilyn as a second-wedding gift.
- Prenup Blowup: Drives the entire plot.
- Private Detective: Infidelity specialist Gus Petch, the least subtle PI in the world.You want tact, call a tactician. You want ass nailed, you call Gus Petch.
- Psycho for Hire: A funny case with Wheezy Joe. He's a psycho, just not a very good one.Miles: She won't suffer, will she?Wheezy Joe: Not unless you pay extra.
- Recurring Riff: Simon & Garfunkel tunes keep popping up.
- Skewed Priorities: Miles' reasons for trying to recall the hit on Marilyn:Miles: She's rich now! ...and I love her. I don't have to kill her!
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The depiction of divorce and how only the lawyers benefit from it is appropriately cynical. Even in a romcom.
- Slow Clap: After Miles' speech before NOMAN
- Spit Take: When Marilyn is sitting with her friends and telling them about Gus catching Rex in the act, one of her friends mentions she's having her husband followed to see who he's cheating with, at which point another of Marilyn's friends spits out her drink. Curiously, no one gets suspicious of this.
- Later, when Miles, Wrigley and Rex are meeting with Freddie and Marilyn in Miles' office, Freddie says Marilyn is going after 50% of Rex's assets, at which point Miles spits out the water he was drinking.
- That Was Objectionable:
- The put-upon opposing lawyer, Bender, keeps trying to object to Massey's Courtroom Antics with grounds ranging from the ridiculously feeble ("Uh... poetry recital?") to the ludicrously unnecessary ("Objection! Strangling the witness!"). The judge's response is invariably "I'm going to allow it."
- When we see him off-duty, Wrigley is wearing a T-shirt that reads "Objection!"
- Throwing Out the Script: Miles does this with his keynote speech at the NOMAN divorce lawyer conference.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: After the husband in the beginning was left a bum by Massey, Marilyn manages to help him get him get back on top in exchange for getting her in contact with Doyle.
- Vader Breath: Wheezy Joe and Herb Myerson (Miles Massey's boss.)
- Who's on First?: When Rex tries to find out if Miles and Wrigley have ever argued a case before this judge before:Rex: Have you sat before her before?
Miles: No, no. The judge sits first, then we sit.
Rex: (Beat) Well, have you sat after her before?
Wrigley: Sat after her before? You mean, have we argued before her before?
Miles: The judge sits in judgement. The counsel argues before the judge.
Rex: So, have you argued before her before?
Wrigley: Before her before, or before she sat before?
Rex: Before her before. I said before her before.
Wrigley: No, you said before she sat before.
Rex: Well, I did at first, but-
Miles: Look; don't argue.
Rex: I'm not! But-
Wrigley: You don't argue. We argue.
Miles: Counsel argues.
Wrigley: You appear.
Miles: Judge sits.
Wrigley: Then you sit.
Miles: Or, you'd stand in contempt.
Wrigley: Then, we argue.
Miles: Counsel argues.
Rex: Which you've done before?
Miles: Which we've done before.
Wrigley: But not before her.