In our regular column, Less Than (Five) Zero, we take a look at films that have received less than 50 logged watches on Letterboxd, aiming to discover hidden gems in independent and world cinema. This week Felix Hubble looks at Rodney Dangerfield vehicle My 5 Wives.
Date Watched: 13th April, 2016
Letterboxd Views (at the time of viewing): 48
From the moment the Comic Sans MS fonted opening credits kicked into gear, it was clear that I was – for better or worse – in for a “treat”. Drawn in by the absolutely ridiculous trailer1 the Canon mainstay and prior Rodney Dangerfield collaborator Sidney J. Fury directed My 5 Wives is a Dangerfield vehicle that arrived 20-30 years too late.
Released in 2000, My 5 Wives follows corrupt land developer, womanizer, dad-shirt wearer and all-round jokester Monte Peterson (Dangerfield) who – after divorcing the latest in a string of cash-hungry trophy wives – purchases prime land with sights to build a mountain lodge resort in the Utah community of Redwood Springs, inadvertently inheriting 3 youthful, sex-crazed wives from the previous landholder, a man of staunch Mormon faith, in the process. Unfortunately for Monte, he outbid Tony Morano (Andrew Dice Clay) for the property, a Las Vegas-based mafioso with an eye on the land as the potential site of a casino.2 Shenanigans, of course, ensue as Morano’s lackeys move in on Monte, and Monte himself acquires more wives, learns to be a better, less-womanizing albeit still sexist person, and brings some much needed release in the form of endless dick jokes and corrupt dealings to Redwood Springs – ironically, a town without a spring. It’s pretty stock-standard for this kind of destined for home-video/cable dreck, but it does the job.
Of particular note is a sequence in which Monte’s wives discover the work of fictional feminist self-help author Dr. van Dyke, demanding their autonomy within the Mormon community and asserting their personal identities, which somehow manages to be simultaneously amusing and extremely misogynistic. Despite the inclusion of this gag – which mars the remaining 40 or so minutes of the film – My 5 Wives manages to maintain an unhealthy does of sexism throughout and, surprisingly, never manages to pass the extremely low bar of the Bechdel test, despite numerous dialogue driven sequences without men in them. Dangerfield and co. seem overtly aware of this fact which works to alleviate or worsen the effects of it, depending on how you look at it.
The film is Rodney-sploitation through and through, with Dangerfield constantly chewing the scenery, unleashing rapidfire strings of hammed-up jokes at every possible opportunity with the majority of sequences used to set up jokes rather than advance the film’s plot. Just watching My 5 Wives, presumably one of Dangerfield’s worst efforts, it’s pretty clear how a performer like Dangerfield has had such a strong influence over the output of a lot of contemporary low-brow comedy cinema – the plot and pacing of just about every Happy Madison production comes to mind.3
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – this film is garbage through and through, but it’s a unique sort of endearing, highly watchable garbage; while it’s almost shocking to think that the film exists Dangerfield never seems like he’s being exploited, and the film feels far more like a passion project, another outing in the vein of Back to School and Ladybugs, rather than just another paycheck – I mean, who would think this could be profitable? The fact that Dice Clay and Dangerfield seem to be having fun is somewhat infectious, despite the fact that the film is, of course, pretty trying at times, a single concept joke factory with no redeeming aesthetic features.
In that vein, My 5 Wives boasts extremely stock standard cinematography, lazy direction, a weak script, an atrocious soundtrack, fairly uninspiring set and costume design, and near-universally poor performances, Dangerfield and Dice Clay somewhat excluded as they essentially just playing toned down versions of their stage personas. Perhaps its strongest feat is in its editing, with editor Saul Pincus managing to take this cess pool of disjointed disparate elements and turn it into something wholly watchable with decent, if a little tiresome, pacing.
Is this worth watching? Probably not, but as a relic of the pre-Netflix straight to video era and a curious oddity in Rodney Dangerfield’s filmography it’s definitely not without merit. Dangerfield’s constant pun-smithery and Dice Clay’s ridiculously over-the-top performance make for at least somewhat entertaining viewing. If nothing else, the completely ridiculous snow chase in the film’s final act is pretty great, if absolutely stupid. It’s not hard to understand how this has just under 50 logs on letterboxd, and maybe such a low number is deserved, but to suggest My 5 Wives isn’t without at least 5 or so redeeming features would be disingenuous.