‘I’ ON CULTURE
If you simply want to go to the movies and have a great time laughing, the new Coen brothers’ film Hail, Caesar is right for you. While not even being close to being a brilliant film like their Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo or The Big Lebowski, it is a light, funny take on old Hollywood, emphasizing how the gap between art and life can be amusing.
The story follows the life of “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) for a single day as he solves a lifetime’s worth of crazy problems at the mythical Capital Films. Interestingly, there really was a fixer by that name years ago. Along the way, he has to deal with the kidnapping of major star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) by a group of weirdly ineffective Communists just before the filming of a key scene in one of the cheesiest Biblical films ever.
Then there is the problem that a key actress (Scarlett Johannson), who does underwater films like Esther Williams, is unmarried and pregnant and does not want to give up the baby. And on another set, cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who speaks with a thick Southern accent, is asked to take part in a sophisticated drawing-room comedy with a very particular director, Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), who freaks out trying to teach him to handle quick-witted dialogue. Also, his song-and-dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) has more than a few secrets of his own. And all of the secrets are being probed by a pair of psycho twin sister gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton for both). And while all of this is going on, Mannix is being wooed by Lockheed to be their fixer with a more secure job.
There are some wonderfully funny scenes here. Early on, Eddie calls in a group of clergy — one Catholic, one Eastern Orthodox, one Protestant, one Jewish — to make certain there would be no problem with the script. Listening to the three Christians bickering over the nature of the Trinity while the rabbi says they’re all “meshugenah” was a hoot. Interestingly, it was mirrored somewhat later as the Communists try to define their message for their kidnap victim.
None of the characters are exactly as they seem. The lighthearted song-and-dance man has a dark secret. The not-so-bright cowboy is a lot smarter than he seems. The “tough broad” actress really wants stability. Mannix is a devout Catholic family man. Even the egotistical movie star is not a fool and, when properly motivated, can be a superb performer.
There are some really delicious scenes: watching the over-precise director trying to get the drawling cowboy to enunciate was funny. And the cowboy had a lovely date scene with a Carmen Miranda clone (Veronica Osorio) that was charming.
But the movies within the movies were really the highlights. Ehrenreich was in a perfectly set cowboy “B” movie as he sang a charming song while a comic clowned. The swimming number with multiple backup dancers was filmed perfectly. And the song-and-dance number was not only very well done but incredibly funny.
The cast, as expected in a Coen brothers movie, was exceptionally good. Many of the roles were rather brief, but the performers made them come alive. Johannson only has a few scenes but makes an indelible impression. Tatum is an exceptionally good song-and-dance man. His big number would not have worked if he hadn’t turned into a Gene Kelly clone.
Ehrenreich does very well, both charming and smart. Fiennes created a wonderful caricature. Clooney was delightful walking a fine line between fool and nice, well-meaning guy, around long enough to not be simply a stereotype. Brolin managed to be both sincere and slimy — not an easy task. There should also be a shout out to a whole group of character actors as the Communists. Their scene was goofy, but they did add charm.
I really enjoyed this film. There are far too few comedies anymore, and this one really hit the spot. If you love old movies, this film is perfect for you. And, if not, it is still a fun time at the theater.