“Hail Caesar!” is the Joel and Ethan Coen’s new comedy that pays homage to 1950s Hollywood.
The story follows 24 hours in the life of a “fixer” for a studio. That’s the guy who keeps tabs on the actors, tracking their behavior and personal quirks, and keeping their scandals out of the gossip rags.
Josh Brolin plays a fictional Eddie Mannix (not the real Hollywood fixer of the same name who was apparently a pretty shady guy). This Eddie Mannix is “as pure as the driven snow” as Joel Coen puts it in a Feb. 12 interview in The Economist.
In 24 hours Mannix has to fix situations such as an unmarried pregnant water ballet star (Scarlett Johansson), a cowboy actor (Alden Ehrenreich) needed on the set of a parlor drama, a song and dance actor (Channing Tatum) with political opinions, a job offer from an aerospace firm, two Hollywood reporters/gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton) vying for a story, his own family rarely seeing him at home, and the biggest star in the studio (George Clooney) getting kidnapped before the last day of filming.
There is an insane asylum quality to the studio and to Mannix’s work as he moves among the various sound stages for each of the movies, followed by his secretary bringing him up to date on messages and scheduling. There’s a great scene with Frances McDormand as a film editor. Ralph Fiennes plays the director of the parlor drama, trying to get the cowboy to speak properly. The whole thing is pretty funny.
The beauty of this film is the honor it pays to the movie industry of that era. When is last time a new movie included a full ensemble dance number, or 20 synchronized swimmers, or 200 extras dressed as Roman soldiers, or a talented singing cowboy? By including these scenes from several movies being produced all at once, we get the feel for the movies of that “simpler time” of 1951.
Hail Caesar! Is not the best Coen Brothers film, by a long shot. But, if you are entertained by blockbuster musicals and period pieces, you may like this film. There are quite a number of plot twists and visual details to surprise a laugh out of you. And so many big stars are in the film. Hail Caesar is not going to be Best Picture of 2016, but it could get nominated for production design.
Rated PG-13 “for some suggestive content and smoking”, this film will not disturb or shock you. No one dies in this film. Note: there is a scene I very much appreciated where the studio brought together a rabbi, a priest, an Orthodox patriarch and a Protestant minister to comment on the Bible movie in production, just to make sure the theology in the film wouldn’t offend anyone. Who does that anymore?