Tweetable Takeaway: The Coen Brothers poke gentle fun at Hollywood in a comedy where nothing really happens. Tweet
Every couple of years Joel and Ethan Coen release a film that adds levity to their canon of heavy-hitting Oscar bait features. These films are nevertheless stamped with the distinct humor of the Coen Brothers and serve as a buffer to keep their rabid fanbase of cinephiles satisfied until they release their next soul-stirring (or crushing) drama. The buffer film is usually a meandering comedy filled with the quirky shades of Coen-isms. HAIL, CAESAR! is their buffer for 2016.
Set in an alternate Hollywood amid the technicolor Golden Age, we are introduced to Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the president of Capitol Pictures. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, we see that he is the backbone of the studio and fixes everything when it needs fixing. He curates the overall image of Capitol Pictures — and that includes covering the asses of his actors and actresses when covering is needed.
The biggest project on the studio’s slate is the Christ-laden Hail, Caesar! with Hollywood’s biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney, notably reviving the Caesar haircut which he himself popularized in the late ’90s). But when the clueless prima donna is kidnapped for ransom by a group called “The Future”, Eddie does what he can to get him back. Not because he is worried about his safety, but because they need to finish shooting the film ASAP. This is the story that sets the foundation of other little and, at times, less interesting stories in the star-studded comedy with a lower case “c”. Then again, all of the Coen Brothers’ comedies have a lower case “c” — but I think that’s how they like it.
The all-star cast is endless as it is impressive, which shows that the Coen Brothers can probably get anyone they want for any movie they make. Some actors are blatant equivalents of real-life stars of the era for the sake of authenticity. Scarlett Johansson becomes an Esther Williams-esque starlet who learns that she’s pregnant. Channing Tatum tap-dances his way into the movie as a golden boy triple-threat that echoes Gene Kelly. Tilda Swinton plays a two-headed version of gossip Hedda Hopper (and when I say two-headed, I mean she plays two sisters). Alden Ehrenreich puts on a cowboy hat as a “gee-golly” lasso-slinging southern boy who fell into the acting game, while Ralph Fiennes dons an ascot as condescending English director, Laurence Laurentz. Even Jonah Hill and Coen Brothers regular Frances McDormand showed up for a hot minute. That’s a lot of celebrity to take in.
The roster is impressive, but that’s what sixty percent of this movie is: waiting to see what marquee name will pop in, and what clever piece of dialogue they’ll get to deliver. Granted, each actor makes the most of their time (with Swinton and McDormand standing out, as usual), but they don’t add anything to the story except for Hollywood flair and the occasional giggle.
However, focusing on the celebrity factor may discredit the film’s focus. It’s not really about Baird’s kidnapping or about life in Hollywood. It’s all about Eddie–a man trying to balance his work and home life while maintaining his sanity by going to confession every 24 hours. When Baird goes missing, it’s an obstacle, but when he is offered a job to leave his life at Capitol Pictures and join the ranks of Lockheed Martin, he’s really thrown for a whirl. It brings a glimpse of humanity to the Hollywood sheen and Brolin handles it like a pro.
Hail, Caesar! plays out like a series of all-star vignettes anchored by a kidnapping story that doesn’t have much of a payoff in the end. The film is self-aware, a bit silly, and while the Coen Brothers throw in random plot tangents and supporting characters—it’s nothing that a smile from Channing Tatum or a wink from Scarlett Johansson can’t fix.
I tend to have problems when it seems like the actors in the movie are having more fun then the audience. With Hail, Caesar!, I was fine with it, because everyone and everything was charming and unapologetically frivolous. The Coen Brothers often make heavy, emotionally-draining films; they deserve to have some fun.
Score: 2.5 out of 5
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer