But today, I don't need any of that.
Recently I revisited Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and I just love that film. This time I was particularly struck by the genius of the casting. At it's core, Scoundrels is a buddy picture - and fits well within that genre when you consider it in those terms, despite the fact that Steve Martin and Michael Caine are actually rivals rather than friends for this story.
Good buddy pictures are built on the ideas of interacting opposites. Two characters that are so different their mere proximity breeds comedy. Whether it be pairing of straight-laced and carefree, old and young, or fat guy and llama. But the genius behind Steve Martin and Michael Caine is that they are fundamentally different people. They can both have similar back stories, occupations, and can even be striving for the same goal, but they are incapable of being the same.
To illustrate my point perfectly, there is one scene after Steve Martin learns that Michael Caine is making significantly more money, wherein Steve Martin's character asks to be tutored in Caine's refined ways. Throughout the scene, Martin tries to imitate Caine's behavior, adopt his interests, and even tries to take on his mannerisms. It's so hilarious because Martin ends up looking like a child, pretending to be a grown up without knowing really what to do with himself while he goes through the motions. Part of this is due to the fact that Martin is a remarkably talented physical comedian, and part of it is just the plain fact that Martin couldn't become Caine if he wanted to.
In fact, part of the genius of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is that these characters have the same occupation and are pursuing the same goals. We get to see them chase after their muse, but using completely different strategies, strengths, and perspectives. And all this characterization is wonderfully conveyed within the first ten minutes of the film, without an exposition dump, before the central plot has even begun to unfold.
P.S. I also realized while writing this that Frank Oz has directed 3 of my favorite Steve Martin films. Guess he does more than pig, monster, and alien voices.