Control Nathan and Clint: My 5 Wives
I don’t like to tell tales out of school but the Patreon for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast hasn’t done quite as well as the one for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. As of this writing we have 631 heroic human beings pledging to the website and 26 Gods among men and women pledging to the podcast. That's okay, because I rely upon the income from the Happy Place Patreon to live whereas Clint makes a good living selling designer drugs for wholesale prices, but perhaps I've said too much.
We appreciate every last patron and every last dollar to an almost unseemly, unhealthy degree, but the relatively modest number of patrons to Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast has caused some problems. For while there’s a big enough voting pool for there to be a clear winner and loser in Control Nathan Rabin, the column where I give readers a chance to choose between which of two movies I must see, and then watch, the pool for Cast is much smaller and consequently much more likely to result in ties.
For example, I was hoping that readers would share my morbid fascination about a hitherto unknown obscurity where Rodney Dangerfield played God and Frank Gorshin played a dead George Burns in heaven bummed that there’s no Gracie and no cigar-smoking called Angels with Angles and overwhelmingly choose it for the next Control Nathan and Clint over My 5 Wives, his ambiguously Mormon-themed sex comedy. Angels with Angles has Frank Stallone in it , for fuck’s sake! He’s everyone’s favorite Stallone! As Elvis Presley, "The King." What more could you people possibly want? Rodney Dangerfield in a thong?
I was wrong, however. Apparently the morbid, train wreck appeal of a shortly pre-death Dangerfield vehicle pairing him with Andrew “Dice” Clay and a premise that finally addresses the comic elements of polyamory was exactly equal to a movie set in heaven with Frank Gorshin as a dead George Burns because as of this writing there are seven votes for Angels with Angles and seven votes for My 5 Wives.
So I have chosen to do the masochistic, insane thing and subject myself to both movies. I’m giving Clint the out of only having to see one of these very bad boys (he chose Angels with Angles, as you undoubtedly know from listening to the podcast) but I have decided that in order to completely adhere to the dictates of this column and premise I need to watch both of these atrocities, and write about them.
Truth be told, I was kind of looking for an excuse to see My 5 Wives, just as I’m looking for an excuse, no matter how thin and feeble, to subject myself to every last movie Dangerfield made after the idea of him mugging and flailing and quipping his way through a movie stopped being enough to get a vehicle theatrically distributed.
I’m talking about the lean years, the sad years, the post-Harold Ramis, post-hit years, when Dangerfield lurched unsteadily from one terrible idea to another, looking for nothing more than a rickety, ramshackle springboard for all of the old jokes.
The terrible central joke of My 5 Wives is right there in the title. Imagine the wife jokes if Rodney had, get this, 5 wives! That’s five time the number of jokes about his wife’s infidelity! Five times the dick jokes! Five times the sweaty desperation! Five times the unintentional sadness! Five times the creaky self-parody!
But first, My 5 Wives feels the need to introduce the concept of polygamy via the opening exposition: “Since time began, in certain cultures and religions, men have practiced polygamy, having more than one wife. Today there are still thousands of men who believe in this way of life.”
Does My 5 Wives treat this cultural tradition with tact and sensitivity? It saddens me to report that it does not. You can tell that a movie will not treat provocative subject matter like polygamy with the Lubitsch Touch when the opening credits are in Comic Sans, as My 5 Wives’ are.
For Rodney Dangerfield, the old jokes have a format as orthodox and religiously adhered to as those of iambic pentameter or haikus. For example, a “classic” late period Dangerfield one-liner always involves at least one word or phrase emphasized in the vocal equivalent of all caps and an exclamation point at the end, as in opening narration quipping, “We have the most careful drivers in L.A. They’re always giving hand signals: Yeah, the FINGER!”
Dangerfield plays Monte Peterson, one of his trademark big-hearted slobs with a snob’s bloated bank account. He’s a big macher in California real estate who has erected buildings all over the city. Why, he’s got ERECTIONS all over town! I tell ya, Monte, when he goes fishing, he catches nothing. When he goes to ORGIES he catches EVERYTHING!
You’re alright, you’re okay. Great readership here, great readership. Tip the writer on your way out.
Monte’s not concerned about sexual harassment. At his age, he's more concerned with sexual EMBARRASSMENT! Why, the last time he had sex, he was arrested for assault with a DEAD weapon, the weapon in question I’m guessing, from context, being his flaccid penis.
As for women, are you kidding? He’s got no luck with women. When he got married to his soon-to-be-ex-wife Blanche, she put everything they had under both names: her and her MOTHER! She apparently also “played around plenty.” Before they got married, she told him he was one in a million: he discovered that he was, but less in the sense of being special (the conventional, positive sense of the phrase) and more in the sense of being one of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sexual partners she's had over the course of her young life.
The protagonist is just discussing his life, and unfortunate, dysfunctional relationship with his previous wives, but from the way he really leans into every punchline and bulges his eyes constantly it almost feels like he’s less a self-made construction magnate discussing his life and more like he’s a comedian delivering suspiciously familiar-seeming one-liners.
Yes, Monte is very lucky in business—I would describe his financial mastery as at the “very stable genius” level—but unlucky in love until Ray (Fred Keating), an incredibly bland contemporary, encourages him to pursue his lifelong dream of running a ski lodge by buying land in a community run by a polyamorous religious group that combines elements of Mormonism and Amish life.
The ski lodge purchase is almost comically cumbersome and unappealing. In order to buy the property, Monte has to over-pay for it dramatically, refrain from drinking alcohol and smoking despite being a hard-living degenerate (not unlike Easy Money, from the non-depressing phase of Rodney's film career) in the classic Rodney Dangerfield mold and join a Church.
Boy, Monte must really want to own a ski lodge. Incidentally, suffering through all 100 minutes or so of My 5 Wives, I found myself thinking how much I would prefer to watch Rodney’s Sexy Ski Lodge rather than this tepid, PG-13 semi-sex comedy. The last hurdle Monte must inexplicably clear in order to own property involves taking on possession of the three wives of the person whose property he’s buying.
As someone with three acrimonious divorces to his name, all to women who, judging from Monte’s bitter comments about them, were no prize, Monte is understandably reluctant to re-up three more times concurrently until he sees that all three women, somewhat improbably, are buxom sexpots who’d look like Playboy playmates were it not for their exceedingly modest attire.
Monte is overjoyed at the prospect of thrusting his shriveled, gray, seventy-eight year old penis inside these beautiful, inexplicably aroused and satisfied young women until fulfilling the sexual needs of no less than three young lookers proves more exhausting than erotic.
Now you would imagine, from their respective age and physical attractiveness levels, that when one of Monte’s sexy young wives was confronted with the image of their jowly, obese, seventy-eight year old lover’s liver-spot-covered penis, obscured by his enormous gut, and what I imagine is a thick patch of grey-white pubic hair, they’d be overwhelmed with a visceral sense of repulsion as well as a deep, penetrating sadness over the cruelty of aging and the terrifying specter of their husband’s seemingly imminent death.
You would be wrong! You’d naturally also assume that these women, young enough to be Monte’s grand-daughters and all blessed with youth, sexuality and vigor, would see this almost impressively unattractive old man’s flaccid, geriatric manhood and be repulsed. Instead, they are immediately be flooded with feelings of erotic desire.
You would similarly imagine that the humor in a late-period Rodney Dangerfield vehicle called My 5 Wives would come from the sexual shenanigans that ensure when a horny old coot suddenly finds himself in an intense sexual relationship with no less than five sexy babes! Again, you would be wrong. My 5 Wives depletes all of the humor there is to be gleaned from the ancient, nearly dead Rodney Dangerfield having five wives in about three minutes or so. There’s almost nothing there.
Unfortunately, My 5 Wives has 100 minutes to get through, roughly 25 minutes longer than a film like this could possibly need, so most of the film’s running time is devoted to various plots, and subplots.
What plots? What subplots? You might be sorry you asked. Basically when Monte buys the property for his dumb Utah ski lodge, he runs afoul of evil banker Preston Gates (John Byner) and his evil minion Stewart (John Pinette), since they want the land so that they can help establish an Indian Casino for vicious mobster "Tony" Morano (Andrew “Dice” Clay) and his boss Don Giovanni (Jerry Stiller).
To aid them in their nefarious endeavors, the scheming and desperate Preston frames Monte as a counterfeiter, leading his wives to join forces to spring him from jail. Yes, My 5 Wives has a counterfeiting subplot no one in the history of the world could possibly care about, as well as a series of insultingly unnecessary chases, at least one of which involves Monte on skis (or, to be more accurate, Dangerfield’s stunt double on skis) being chased by Andre “Dice” Clay’s character on a snowmobile.
Oh, and you might also have noticed that the movie is called My 5 Wives when he only marries three originally. He picks up an additional two from an elder in the community who has died in a development that affects the film in no way whatsoever since all of the wives are pretty much identical—sexy, inexplicably turned on by Monte but also genuinely enamored of him emotionally. I suppose the filmmakers added these final two wives because three wives is ostensibly a reasonable amount for an opportunistic polyamorist to have to have but five wives—that’s just crazy!
My 5 Wives was released in 2000, the dawn of a new millennium but it nevertheless treats feminism, as embodied by self-help guru Dr. Van Dyke (Molly Shannon), author of bestselling anti-male manifesto Kick Him Where It Hurts, as some manner of crazy new fad, like Pet Rocks or Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
When Dr. Van Dyke—whom Monte “humorously” calls Dr. Dyke until he is corrected—hips our overwhelmed protagonist’s legal harem to this wild new development where women these days are allowed to have things like “jobs” and “lives” and “agency” and don’t just have to do everything their husband orders them to do, they behave like the film’s conception of liberated young woman and do things like get “jobs” and “leave home occasionally.” It's like the episode of Wife Swap where Tommy Davidson's wife teaches Corey Feldman's "Angels" about the world outside the Feld-Mansion and the wonders to be found there.
My 5 Wives takes perverse pains to avoid offending Mormons and the Amish. Yet I ended up feeling offended on their behalf all the same. I was similarly offended on Dangerfield’s behalf. Heck, as a Rodney Dangerfield fan, I found myself offended not by any specific gag, but rather by the film’s mere existence.
Dangerfield’s feeble comedy is offensively terrible. That is perhaps to be expected, since it came right in the thick of the “offensively terrible” stage of his film career, which, astonishingly, we've only just begun to explore.
Why not join the community over at Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast. It's small but great, like the late Billy Barty. In fact, it's EXACTLY like the late Billy Barty. https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappycast
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, get to participate in polls, get patron-exclusive content and support independent media over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace