Ted Kotcheff… Director of insane Australian psychological horror Wake in Fright. George Segal… Star of middeling 90s / early new millennium sitcom Just Shoot Me and amazingly hilarious, tragically under seen 70s comedy Where’s Poppa?. Jane Fonda… Sexplotation hotty who graduated into overly self important prestige pomp. What do these three people have in common? They all believe the moon landing was faked*. They also all worked together on Fun With Dick and Jane.
Dick (Segal) works for a high end aerospace company, until he’s fired. When he gets home to his upper middle class home, his wife, Jane (Fonda) is directing an army of builders and gardeners as they have a new pool and elaborate landscaping installed. She takes the news of Dick’s sacking well, at first. But it’s more to do with their own obliviousness than it is compassion. The two continue living their lavish lifestyle until all their money is gone.
After attempts at jobs they see beneath them, and even going on welfare, Dick and Jane stumble on to a new life in crime. Robbing the rich and giving to themselves, Dick and Jane becomes a goofy romp of corny disguises, bumbling, yet effective thievery and borderline slap stick.
In just three movies, Ted Kotcheff has made it pretty high on my list of most interesting directors. Fun With Dick and Jane couldn’t be any more different to Wake in Fright, which couldn’t be any more different to North Dallas Forty. As varying as these movies are in tone, theme and feel, it would be easy to think of him as a bit of anonymous journeyman, making whatever comes his way, never leaving a personal stamp to make sure people know they’re watching a Kotcheff joint. But I think I’ve noticed a definite personal touch on all three. It’s Kotcheff’s view from the outside, looking in at these hallowed institutions.
The outback and its salt of the earth people is one of the greatest things we have to offer in Australia. But the outback also offers its fair share of racism, xenophobia and general narrow mindedness. As a Canadian, Kotcheff had no loyalty to Australia urging him to sugar coat the not so great side of these people. When I wrote about Wake in Fright, I said, “Kotcheff’s portrayal of the outback does give them a tragic context. Almost as if to say that with such a harsh and unrelenting world around them, how could they not become the animals they are?”
With North Dallas Forty. he takes on a world almost more flag wavingly American than kids shooting oozies; Football. And not just football, but Texas football. Again, his outsider perspective lets Kotcheff cut the crap and go for the throat. In Fun With Dick and Jane, it’s the literal American dream coming under satirical fire. Dick and Jane aren’t necessarily bad people and they rob from slightly worse people than themselves, but their motivation is far from honourable. They’re middle class consumers, addicted to consumption.
Which leads to another impressive aspect of Fun With Dick and Jane. America was still a few years away from the Greed-is-Good, Ronald Regan years. The kind of years that were perfectly taken down in Albert Brookes’ Lost in America. Here, those same attitudes are taken down just as perfectly, several years before they even reached their peak.
As social commentary, Fun With Dick and Jane is great. But if you’re making a comedy, the greatest social commentary in the world doesn’t mean shit if it doesn’t make you laugh. Fun With Dick and Jane delivers there too. Segal is hilarious, but that was no surprise. What was surprising, was how funny Fonda is. She’s always seemed pretty humourless to me. But here, she matches Segal all the way to more than pull her weight as one half of a genuinely great comedy duo.
* I have no idea what these three people actually think about the validity of the 1969 moon landing.