Was at first unsure what to expect of The In-Laws by looking at promotional material, but what I got was something that took me out of nowhere. What I certainly expected of Arthur Hiller’s cult classic was that it would be a very funny film indeed and that is what I got, but what I did not expect was that it would be just as dark as it is also uproarious. It would be clear already that shenanigans are sure to keep one’s attention from the odd pairing of both Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, but there’s something about the timing that turns The In-Laws into more than just a delightful comedy. It’s a cynical film that uses said aspect in order to heighten its own spirits together with its own charm and on that count, I absolutely love it.
Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are the mismatched pair of in-laws – Falk plays Vince Ricardo, a man who claims to be a government agent and Arkin is playing Sheldon Kornpett, a mild-mannered dentist. Eventually, the two of them become in-laws when Sheldon’s daughter marries Vince’s son. From here, the many misadventures involving the pair only have just begun. But why is it that said misadventures are so entertaining to watch? It would be rather easy for The In-Laws to appear as if it were any ordinary buddy comedy, but the chemistry between Arkin and Falk is only a fraction of where the wonder comes in. Sure, it forms where all the energy comes in, but even with all of that said, there’s more that makes Arthur Hiller’s work something wonderful.
The In-Laws‘s wonder arises from its cynical portrayal of the importance of family values, particularly between members who are normally not going to get along with one another. With all the ridiculousness that the pair find themselves dragged into, there’s always a bond that forms from the chemistry that Arkin and Falk share, but it’s also coming from the unquestionable love that the two of them form between each other for all of their willingness to keep each other closely as more shenanigans come their way. As a duo, the two of them are always hilarious to watch together, and thanks to the incredible senses of disbelief that come around whether it be from the mild-mannered Arkin (in arguably his career’s best film) or the preposterous Peter Falk, the odd blend is never not entertaining to watch. It makes a mismatched pair all the more compelling when you also come to think of them like the bickering brothers in any family, who still know deep down that they need one another to survive. With that scenario, Arthur Hiller decides to go ahead and take it literally.
Going back to Alan Arkin’s performance in this film, it is always wonderful to watch how he tries to play a seemingly ordinary person caught within the most bizarre circumstances. No matter what it is that is happening to him, there’s a great effect left behind towards the comedy when we also come back to look at how he is able to manage a straight face no matter what is happening around him. Yet even then, he still manages to explode with mania which adds up to a greater comedic effect being left behind. It’s also interesting how Arthur Hiller utilizes Arkin’s perspective in order to keep the story moving forward, for we can only imagine that the whole thing is just taking place inside of his head and he is going insane, creating something much darker.
What also helps in aiding the greatness of The In-Laws is the screenplay, written by Andrew Bergman. Mix that together with Arthur Hiller’s direction and all the glory that comes from Andrew Bergman’s own words shines so brightly. Hiller’s direction does not only weave through this script with ease but he is also incorporating a sense of realism in order to add more to the ridiculous nature that The In-Laws is creating. Hiller has a unique understanding of the comedy genre that also throws many shades of cynicism especially in regards to how he is telling the story straight from Andrew Bergman’s script, and whenever a moment is played out to be funny, it always lands. Notably, the “serpentine” scene comes to mind when we are witnessing The In-Laws at some of its very most effective, for it plays something that easily could appear as frightening into a comedic light.
For how delightful the comedic timing is in The In-Laws, every brooding shade of cynicism adds more to the cleverness it leaves behind. The In-Laws made me laugh terribly hard, but at the same time it also offered a unique look at the bickering siblings concept, by taking everything to such a far-fetched degree. It would certainly be easy to say that Peter Falk is entertaining all throughout, but coming towards Alan Arkin it would be easy for myself to say that he has simply never been any better than he was in The In-Laws. Quite amazingly for how cynical it is all playing out to be, it is never completely presenting itself as a black comedy. That alone already leaves me impressed with what Arthur Hiller has been able to leave behind, for I’ve never seen another filmmaker work around comedy in this manner. Hysteria runs from first frame to last.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros.
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Screenplay by Andrew Bergman
Produced by Arthur Hiller, William Sackheim
Starring Alan Arkin, Peter Falk
Release Year: 1979
Running Time: 103 minutes