A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 367 – The Hudsucker Proxy

The Hudsucker Proxy – March 2nd, 2011

I fully intended to watch this a few days ago. After seeing Tim Robbins in that piece of crap War of the Worlds remake I really wanted to refresh my view of the man. Because he’s a good actor and I’ve liked a lot of his roles and I’d rather think of him in something good than something so utterly miserable and unpleasant. And then we hit our one year mark and then we didn’t have enough time, so it’s been a few days and I’ve got to say, I’m glad we finally got a chance to put this in. Oh, Tim Robbins. You make a much better good-hearted but bumbling businessman than you do a paranoid farmer with a tunnel in the basement. Keep the tunnels for getting out of prison, Tim. But that’s another movie.

I would have to say that this is one of the most stylized movies we own. It’s set in 1958 and styled not just to look like it’s set then, but to look like it was made then. It’s not just the wardrobe – and oh how I covet the wardrobe – and the hair and the set dressing. It’s everything. The entire thing is a play on classic movies, aping the style so strongly it’s almost parody but not quite. It’s homage. Very clear homage. With a wink. There’s something a little Brazil-esque about Hudsucker Industries, especially the mailroom where the movie really begins and it’s a nice way to set the tone as being a tiny bit over the top, but not enough to overdo it. I think the Coen Brothers have a knack for this sort of thing. Their movies don’t all have exactly the same tone or feel or mood. Contrast this to O Brother, Where Art Thou? and then the both of them to Raising Arizona and then all three to Burn After Reading and then look at Fargo. Yes, sure, there are come common themes between some of them, but they are each such distinct pieces of work. And this one really does stand out in my mind because of how set in its time period it is.

It also stands out for me as being the only one of the Coen Brothers movies that I’ve seen that truly seems to be magical realism. O Brother has some moments, but as it’s based on classical mythology I categorize it somewhat differently. This movie, however, seems like historical fiction for the most part, with the exaggerated big business setting and the clothes and the character types and whatnot. And then suddenly they stop time and an angel shows up. That’s magical realism to me. I can’t comment on the movies I haven’t seen, but for the ones I have, it’s unique. Sometimes magical realism rubs me the wrong way. The magical element can feel forced or like it’s been tossed in as a fix for a plot hole. And this doesn’t. Like the setting for the movie the magical element feels very deliberate. It was planned all along.

The movie follows the story of Norville Barnes, a bright-eyed young business school graduate planning on making it big in New York City! The basic plot arc doesn’t hold much in the way of surprises, really. Due to some shady plans by the board of directors and company VP, Sidney Mussberger, Barnes finds himself rocketed from the mailroom to company president in short order after Mr. Hudsucker jumps through the window of the 44th floor (45th if you count the mezzanine). The board thinks he’s an idiot who will drive the company into the ground, making it easy for them to buy up the stock. So Barnes is in and bewildered but happy about his new luck and you know that his meteoric rise can only be followed by a catastrophic fall. Hubris and all that, after all. And through the whole thing there’s Amy Archer. She’s a reporter for one of the local newspapers and a Pulitzer winner to boot. She’s a brassy dame, fast talking and fiercely aggressive. She wants the story on Barnes and where he came from and so lies her way into his confidence.

All the turns and plot points are pretty easy to predict for most of the movie. You know that at some point Barnes is going to get too confident and cause his own downfall. You know that Mussberger is going to be right there to help him fall even faster and harder. You know that he’ll find out about Archer eventually and feel betrayed just as you know that prior to that she’ll realize he’s not a dope and she was wrong to target him in the first place. You know all of that because the movie isn’t trying to tell a brand new story. It’s trying to tell this story well and put its own mark on it, which it does with some excellent writing and storytelling, some wonderful acting and the bit of magical realism towards the end.

I really enjoy all the performances in this movie. I’ve heard Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance criticised as being too harsh, but I think she plays exactly as she was told to and comes off as harsh as she does for a reason. She’s supposed to be a little grating. That’s her thing. And she isn’t grating in every scene. It’s really mostly where she has to assert herself to get her point across, which makes sense given her position as a woman in with the men. I also love Paul Newman as Mussberger and of course Robbins as Barnes. I love the whole feel of the movie and its time and its tone. The movie is all in greys and muted colors until you get to the extruded plastic dingus, which shows up in bright bold colors that pop against the rest of the palatte. And as I mentioned, I covet the wardrobe. I want to own every single thing Amy Archer wears in this movie. There’s such a great sense of style here. It’s a movie that knows exactly how it wants to be seen and I love that. It doesn’t get lost in its own story and it doesn’t get sloppy with the magical aspect. It’s stylized and lovely and fun and superbly made on all counts.

March 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hudsucker Proxy

March 2, 2011

The Hudsucker Proxy

Ever since we watched the less-than-great Stephen Spielberg War of the Worlds remake a couple days ago Amanda has wanted to watch a good movie starring Tim Robbins. We have several such films in our archive, because he’s a fantastic actor and stars in many outstanding movies. So here we are – not just a Tim Robbins movie but a Coen Brothers movie as well.

I would not say that this is my favorite Coen Brothers film. It feels almost too light-hearted and simple when compared with the usual Coen weirdness. There’s a kind of edge to the Coens that I’m accustomed to. Even their comedies feel dark in a way. This movie is full of cool visual styling, running gags, larger-than-life caricatures and rapid-fire-patter but it has no real peril in it. The result is that it’s a frothy, campy, light-hearted throwback of a film and although I thoroughly enjoy it every time I watch it I never find myself in awe of it the way I usually am of Coen films.

The plot is simple and straight forward. When the president and founder of Hudsucker Industries abruptly kills himself the board of the company hatch a plan to lower the stock price so they can buy it up cheap. They appoint a patsy – a puppet – a pawn – to head the company. They find an individual they believe to be the most bumbling idiot in the company to head it. That individual is Norville Barnes, a new hire in the mail room with grand ideals but little business experience.

Of course it turns out that Norville actually does have a whopper of a big idea (“You know, for kids”) and he’s able to turn the flagging company around, so instead of the stock price going down it goes up. But his success goes to his head and he soon discovers that it’s harder to be a big shot company president than he might have thought. Meanwhile there’s an intrepid pulitzer winning newspaper reporter by the name of Amy Archer who worms her way into Norville’s confidence in the pursuit of a scoop and finds herself falling for the affable lug. At first Archer thinks that Barnes is a fraud, but she comes to believe in him even when he loses faith in himself. The only question is: can Norville Barnes find a way to give himself a second chance once he realizes how badly he has messed things up?

Because the plot of this film is so simple and so familiar (I’ve seen it before in both The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying) most of what makes this movie extraordinary is in the writing and the directorial flare. And it has both in spades. The dialog is full of rapid fire exchanges, especially for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character Amy Archer, who is a hard assed modern career girl who can hold her own is a world of tough news reporters. (Her clipped diction very much reminds me of a young Katharine Hepburn every time I watch this.) The members of the board of the company all speak in a very iconic way, completing each other’s thoughts and repeating themselves. Everybody has an iconic catch phrase from the elevator boy Buzz with his “Buddy” to chairman of the board Mussburger with his “Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure.” (Can I also say what a joy it is to see Paul Newman as the sinister Mussburger. He’s one of the many highlights of this movie.) It’s a joy just to see these spectacular actors delivering this complicated repartee.

Leading the entire cast of course is Tim Robbins, who is the reason we put this in tonight in the first place. He is a great clown, showing us Barnes at his affable, bumbling best. He has a clean, honest, boyish look that makes you want to root for him. And he’s able to do the egotistical mania of Barnes as well. And the soulful desperation as he hits bottom. Just watching him today makes me look forward with great anticipation to The Shawshank Redemption and Bull Durham. We need to get hold of a copy of The Player as well while we’re at it.

It’s also a joy to watch the clever and interesting world on the screen. The whole movie takes place in a stylised retro fifties. It’s more a tribute to the imaginary fifties of the film world than anything realistic and it borrows from any number of familiar aesthetics. There’s a cool art deco feel to the offices of the chairman of the board and the president. The mail room in the bowls of the building looks like something from a Terry Gilliam film. (Amanda wanted to watch Brazil after watching this.) Everything has a sense of heightened reality – everything is a little peculiar and off.

I really do love this movie. It is all style and no substance, but oh, what style it has! It is slick and cool and pretty and impossible to resist. Long live the Hud!

March 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment