Hail Caesar

Directed and Written by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Saw this at the cheap theatre on a Friday, the projection was slightly off somehow and the crowd was a bit noisy at the start.

I enjoyed it, laughed quite a bit. But I think this movie misses the mark in several ways.

Parody Scenes

Each of the parody scenes, showing style films from the 1950s (I guess that's what I'd call them, and I guess that's what they are) are very strong. It's a fine line to walk between poking fun at a certain kind of movie, or rather a certain kind of scene, and actually just re-doing it. I found these scenes rather funny, I have a limited experience with old films but I've seen enough to get the references, more or less. The problem is, as silly as they are, they still originally had a sincereness to them. In parodying them, Hail Caesar can't seem to push them far enough to where they are plainly silly. Instead, it seems to be just re-doing them, as they originally were (almost), and expecting the audience to find it quite funny.

Of course, it is funny, but the humour is I think a little too subtle. For instance, there is a ridiculous shot in the water scene which is divided in three by ropes, and as the mermaid played by Scarlett Johannsen is pulled up it gets very close in on her face-- I found this quite funny but nobody else seemed to.

The bottom line is that I think the filmmakers intended these to be played for a laugh, but in fact they turned out actually kind of beautiful and fun to watch.

The real problem here for me is the effect is that the filmmakers are being condescending toward their audience.

They are saying, in effect, "look how stupid and hilarious this is", but the audience (at least when I went to see it) has largely a different response, which is, really, to be enraptured by it.

I could be mis-reading this, or possibly these aren't supposed to be seen as funny, but it feels like a huge creative misstep.

Dividing Lines

The other problem is the tone used to show these parody scenes (perhap I should call them re-creation scenes) is not far off the tone of the story. The characters when they are playing their "real" selves still usually feel like they are on the set of a film. Consequently the movie feels sort of flat, there is no friction or texture between reality and unreality.

A great exception is when the cowboy character Hobie Doyle takes Carlotta Valdez. They have a believable chemistry and it's great to see him charming her with the spaghetti noodle. These two characters feel overall very believable.

This isn't a huge problem with the film, but I can't help but feel it's an opportunity lost to make the real world rougher in comparison to the parodied or re-created films.

Sets

This extends to sets. The sound stage sets are great and feel appropriate. But the real world sets feel quite the same, they are too sterile. So we rarely feel like we have walked off the set. Instead, everything in the real world is carefully and sparsely laid out, like a movie set. Some clutter would have gone a long way to constrast the two.

Anyhow it's just another creative choice, not a major problem.

I'll just add that the times this contrast is used have a great effect-- when the mermaid character DeeAnna Moran loses her pure facade and smokes a cigarette and swears, for instance.

Hilights

Overall the tone of the parody scenes is perfect, and these are delightful to watch.

The scene where Baird Whitlock is slapped around by Eddie Mannix is a joy.

In general, the way Eddie Mannix's life goes from thing to thing in a constant whirlwind of small details (like, "oh, here's a picture of bikini atoll being blown up") is probably the second greatest part of this movie.

April 2, 2016


◀ Back