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 | , , , ,

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