I feel like this is a movie tailor-made for me.
Like the Coen Brothers picked my brain, found the things that I love about cinema, all the idiosyncracies that I cannot get enough of, crammed in as many jokes and references that I get, and made a movie that serves as a nod to classic movies and how much Hollywood has changed over the years.
But for other people who aren’t into classic cinema, most of “Hail, Caesar!” will go over their heads. Folks who don’t know who Esther Williams was, who have never seen a Gene Kelley musical, and have no clue what being blacklisted in Hollywood means, are going to be lost from the first scene.
For those that do appreciate all of this, “Hail, Caesar!” is a treat to watch.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a fixer for Capitol Pictures, as he works 25 hours a day to make sure the many celebrities under the company’s spotlight stay out of trouble and not make their way into the gossip columns. Eddie has to deal with swimming beauty DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and her pregnancy with a man she doesn’t love, country bumpkin Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) being forced to improve his image by performing in a sophisticated picture directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Finnes), and the completion of the studios’ biggest picture of the year, starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who goes missing during filming. All the while, Eddie has been offered a high executive position at an airline production company, and is unsure about taking the job, especially when a ransom note arrives saying someone has kidnapped Baird Whitlock.
It should be noted that most of these performances are glorified cameos. Actors like Ralph Finnes, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand and Channing Tatum are in the film for one or two scenes and are never heard from again. In fact, Hill and McDormand have less than five shared lines of dialogue.
That being said, “Hail, Caesar!” does so many things that you don’t see in any films nowadays, with extensive and elaborate sequences that involve massive choreography and timing. The first is DeeAnna Moran’s swimming scene that involves about two dozen swimming beauties to synchronize swim while a live band plays in the background. Their swim suits are multi-colored so even the twists of their torsos must match as their dance takes on a kaleidoscope-feel.
But the scene I’ll always remember about “Hail, Caesar!” is the tribute to Gene Kelley and Donald O’Connor, where a group of sailors about to go out to sea sing and dance about being away from beautiful gals for so long. They tap dance on top of tables, swing from the sign of “The Swingin’ Dingy” and do all sorts of things that no musical has done since the 1960s. The Coen Brothers had to call in a Broadway choreographer for that sequence, since no one in Hollywood knew how to make a dance number like that. And all while making not-so-casual innuendos about the sailors and their orientation.
Part of the reason I enjoyed “Hail, Caesar!” so much is the light-hearted atmosphere throughout the picture. Although there is a kidnapping and a Communist-related plot, the film never takes itself too seriously.
This film has fun with its premise by covering as many genres of 1950s Hollywood as it can, and turning them on their heads. Watching the simple-minded and kind Hobie Doyle interact with the high-minded Laurence Laurentz, who keeps switching his first and last name, as they attempt and fail to make a sophisticated scene work, was both hilarious and reminiscent of classic Hollywood trying to reinvent the wheel.
It paints of picture of why people loved to go to the movies. One character in the film comments about television taking away Hollywood’s business and how cinema would go the way of the dinosaur in a few years. But we watch as this community comes together to create, not just entertainment, but art. Through persistence, passion and timing, we see a group of misfits and alcoholics make something that will last for generations.
“Hail, Caesar!” is not just a love letter to 1950s Hollywood, but a reminder of how powerful movies can be.
Final Grade: A-