Envision Hollywood as it was in the 1950s, with big stars in the middle of epic historical remakes, comedies and musicals all the while embroiled in dodgy personal lives sure to draw the interest of the best gossip columnists and the American public at large, all of it keeping studio officials on their toes to feed the big machine.
Ethan and Joel Coen sure did, writing and directing Hail, Caeser to bring back the shine of what some folks would surely call the good, old day.
Of course, the brothers also installed enough of their oddball eccentricity to make this combination comedy-musical-drama work quite well. Oh, while we’re in the descriptive stage, let’s not forget the dance numbers and western scenes.
And it all works, thanks to a plot that’s filled with moments that are so weird they’re positively endearing and actors that are so endearing when they’re playing parts that are so weird.
Josh Brolin is the solid center of the whole zany universe as Eddie Mannix, the fixer for Capitol Pictures who must make sure that every film made on the Hollywood lot runs as smoothly as possible — which he knows is not very despite his ungodly work hours — and rings the cash register, too.
Brolin’s marvelous manners are brusque when he has to be but sweet enough when that’s called for, too, like when he’s done majestically steering the twin gossip columnists both played like bitter pills by Tilda Swinton.
When he’s earnestly confessing his small sins daily to a tired priest, it’s pure gold.
George Clooney is loopy as studio star Baird Whitlock, kidnapped from his Roman role in the film that’s the title here, too, by a group of … Well, we will go no further in describing them here.
Alden Ehrenreich shows well as part rube and part slickster as the cowboy tapped to take over as romantic leading man in the pinch, and Scarlet Johansson’s big accent and outlandish mermaid ways are humorous in her small but important role. In fact, the Coens convinced Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand to take small but interesting parts, with Tatum’s dancing and conniving the most important of the three.
It all adds up to outlandish fun that had the medium-sized Saturday matinée crowd at the Regal Cinemas theater in Syracuse’s mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA quite content.
Are you a fan of the 1950’s style blockbuster, and why or why not? What’s your pick 1950s pick: drama, comedy or musical, and why? What’s your favorite Coen Brothers movie, and why?