A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , , ,

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