What the Coen Brothers gave us, this time out, is an incredibly self-aware and self-referential picture (nowadays, this is called “meta”) about Hollywood filmmaking during the early days of the art form. If you’ve watched a lot of those classic films from the ’30s-’50s, you know just how jarringly different they are from more contemporary works. Back then, virtually every aspect of every film was intended to be a larger-than-life escape from reality. Audiences didn’t desire grounded, thoughtful, introspective works of art (generally speaking) and so everything was exaggerated to the nth degree – performances and dialogue, especially – even if the story, itself, was believable enough.
And entertainment was the primary goal. So, there were often entire segments of films that would extend themselves to 20 minutes or more that served only to be attention-grabbing in the moment and contributed absolutely nothing to the story or character development of the film, as a whole. As much as I love it, Singin’ in the Rain is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
In crafting a film about filmmaking in this era, the Coens deliberately molded Hail, Caesar! in such a way to replicate those very films. There are pros and cons to this.
Casual filmgoers will most likely get impatient with the film. It was marketed as a straightforward comedy about Clooney’s character being kidnapped and a rescue/exchange being arranged. This film is anything but straightforward.
At moments, the film is outright hilarious. There’s a scene where Josh Brolin’s character, as studio head, is running the script by religious leaders of various beliefs in an effort to make sure it isn’t offensive to any of them and it’s pure genius. But there are just as many moments that are only worth a chuckle and plenty that were outright given away in the marketing.
In addition, there are long stretches of the film where it ceases to even attempt any humor, at all. And this inconsistency – all in an attempt to be meta – infects the film, for better or worse.
The story never becomes particularly pressing or engaging and often comes to a screeching halt so a new character can be introduced only to be summarily dismissed, a few scenes later. And while the film features several different story threads that feel disconnected throughout the majority of the movie, they do come together, albeit somewhat loosely, in certain instances.
When I originally noticed the release date of Hail, Caesar!, I found it odd that it wasn’t being released by the end of December in an effort to make the awards cutoff date. Releasing a film in February is essentially an admission by all involved that it isn’t going to be considered award-worthy. Now, I get it.
The Coens put together a film that is just frankly too meta for its own good. Even if there was genius in its structure and elegance in its delivery, it still plays like the very kind of movie it lampoons and the subtleties of its designs will go over the heads of many. Witty and smart, I think Hail, Caesar! ultimately just tries too hard.
The cast still rocks, though.
NOTABLE AUDIENCE MEMBERS:
An older lady sitting behind me, after seeing the Neighbors 2 trailer loudly declared to us all that it was “a waste of time and film”. Without seeing it. Well, I’ll be seeing it for myself, as it looked pretty fun to me. She also announced to us all when Scarlett Johansson arrived on screen. And after the film, she told us all that whoever gave Hail, Caesar! four stars “was on drugs”. I wonder if she was single.
Okay, another interlude comes your way on Tuesday, followed by movie number seven on Thursday!