From 2007 through 2009, the United States was in a financial crisis created in large part to the housing bubble that burst like a bad appendix. After a strong peak, housing prices dropped dramatically, leading to unpaid mortgages and eventual foreclosures. 2015’s The Big Short did an excellent job in not just portraying the events, but explaining them as well. Subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligation aren’t so easily explained to those with little or no familiarity. Arizona attempts to put a darkly comedic spin on the same event, focused solely on one man and one house and one twisted domino effect.
While The Big Short excelled in a dramatic rendition, Arizona fails to pay off in comedic form.
Director: Jonathan Watson
Release Date: August 24, 2018
In 2009 Arizona, real estate agent Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt) is in a pinch. Feeling the effects of the housing bubble, the divorced mother is desperately trying to sell a house to get her cash woes in a position that doesn’t resemble total disarray. While showing a house to a couple, screams from a neighbor derail the tour as Cassie bursts in to find a woman trying to prevent her husband from hanging himself. The market is tough on all.
Cassie’s tumultuous relationship with her contumely sexist boss, Gary (played by uncredited Seth Rogan, who probably owed someone a favor), is openly awkward and inappropriate as he unabashedly mocks her outfit and her refusal to use her breasts as a marketing tool. While taking a call with one of her creditors, Sonny (Danny McBride) storms in, instigating a violent interaction with Gary. Divorced and underwater in a ghost town of a development, Sonny takes his anger out on the man who sold him his house and ultimately winds up killing him. Once Sonny realizes Cassie has witnessed the entire interaction, he decides to take matters into his own hands and spirals down a dark path with a wake of bodies trailing behind.
The path Sonny tumbles down is meant to be one of tragicomedy, but hinges more on the tragic end, and not always in a dramatically fulfilling way. With frosted tips and a visor, McBride’s version of a 2009 middle-aged man in a financial crisis never feels genuine or relatable. His go-to antics are there, but the intention of the film needs more than a slightly alternate version of Kenny Powers. A dark comedy centered around a reactionary response to a national crisis is a tall order that only a handful of actors could properly relay. Unfortunately, McBride’s limited range is apparent throughout the movie.
DeWitt plays her part well throughout, as she attempts to evade Sonny’s increasingly discommodious downfall and avoid an early trip to the grave. In contrast to Sonny, Cassie feels more human. Tied up in a kitchen, she’s willing to say whatever will help prolong her life, only admitting to the lie when Sonny calls her out. Falsity triggers Sonny on multiple occasions and puts him in a figurative corner. He wants to trust others, but feels betrayed because of his situation and often tries to recompense Cassie, even as he’s chasing her with a gun.
Luke Wilson, David Alan Grier, and Kaitlin Olson also appear in the film but are vastly underused. Wilson and Olson as the ex-spouses who try to help, and Grier as the single solitary policeman in the entire town. The three are only in the movie for a handful of short scenes at best and fail to truly add any substance to the story. Cassie and Sonny are the only characters remotely fleshed out, and the story suffers because of it. Cassie’s daughter is thrown into the mix, which really only serves to strengthen her maternal instincts to protect her offspring more so than provide an additional qualifying character arc.
There are no guidelines when it comes to turning a crisis into comedy, but the aftertaste of Arizona feels cheapened in its attempt. At times the story is on the edge of the diving board, ready to jump into the dark comedy pool with both feet, only to instead dip a toe and head back to the shallow end.