All Hail Hollywood! And, all Hail the Coen Brothers!
1951 was a bit of strange time for Hollywood. The studio system was starting to shift and the oligarchic owners were starting to lose power. Rather understandably its stars were getting fed up of being owned by the studios. The studios got to decide what they would be starring in, who they would be working with, what they looked like and even who they were dating. The post-world war two boom had begun to grow to a standstill and film-makers weren’t quite sure what the people wanted. Some classic films were made that year (A Street Car Named Desire, Alice In Wonderland and The African Queen, to name but three) as were a lot of terrible movies from every genre and hybrid-genre you could possibly think of. If the people don’t know what they want, adopt a ‘throw-everything-at-them-and-see-what-sticks policy’. It’s these issues that make the era a perfect setting for a movie. It’s also the reason that the Coen brothers are the perfect men for the job.
The life of the head of production at Capitol Pictures is not an easy one. In 27 hours Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) must handle one drama after another. First there’s the lead of his series of synchronised swimming epics (Scarlett Johansson) who’s both pregnant and unmarried. Then there’s the all-singing and little-talking cowboy(Alden Ehrenreich) who is forcibly being made to transition from Westerns into thespian drama, much to the bitter frustration of his new luvvie director (Ralph Fiennes) followed up by a check-in on the latest musical starring multi-talented (Channing Tatum), dodging the four preying eyes of gossip columnist twins (both played by Tilda Swinton) and most importantly finding his A-list star (George Clooney) who has disappeared from set. Maybe his job offer from the aviation industry isn’t that unappealing after all…
First I want to state that this is not a perfect movie. Its pacing is off, and the entire film feels like a series of rather delightful misadventures as opposed to one overarching narrative. That fact will put some people off (although that doesn’t really explain/justify the 16 people who walked out of the screening I attended). But for others, including myself, this fundamental flaw is in fact another reason to cherish the movie as surely that rhythm or tone of chaotic mayhem is how life working in the dwindling studio system would have been. What is also allows the Coen brothers to do is duel-handily poke fun at the farce-like-ness of this period of time, and also lovingly embrace it.
Each set-piece is beyond stunning. Every single costume is stunning, with every single character feeling like a tribute to a by-gone era. The synchronised swimming sequence featuring a giant, mechanical whale reinforces the notion that this is THE Dream Factory. The loving pastiche theme continues with Channing Tatum’s ludicrously inventive tap dance and singing number, where he and a dozen sailor lament their going on door as ‘We Ain’t Gonna See No Dames.” However, speaking from personal preference, it’s Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle the Cowboy-turned-actor who totally steals the show. When considering the talent (ahem, Brolin, Johansson, Finnes and Cloonney!) this is truly no mean feat. Doyle is the perfect blend of dim but charming. His attempts at ‘serious’ acting are utterly charming but it’s his date with Carlotta Valdez (cheeky nod to Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ there!) , an up-and-coming Latina actress that will win the hearts of the nation. His accidental wooing of her is pinch-his-cheeks and say ‘nawww’ levels of adorability. He is definitely one to watch.
Although the ‘star of the show’ may not actually steal the spotlight (as hopefully outlined and justified above) it’s Clooney’s storyline that solidifies the fact that this film is not throughway fluff. His ‘journey’ whilst held hostage provides much reflection on the nature of Hollywood ideology, a subliminal critique of the industry by reflecting on the very nature of entertainment, the ugly work that goes into creating what we view as such beauty…but that’s a discussion for another day, (ideally in a pub, with a drink in hand!)
For now, I’ll leave you with this. For those of us who are nostalgic for a time we never lived (I’m including myself in this category) there’s escapism and incredible tributes to the past. For cinephilles there’s subtle reflection on the ugly/beautiful process of cinema-making. There’s also romance, lots of humour and Channing Tatum signing (who knew he had the voice of an angel!?!)
If you’ve got a spare hour and forty minutes this is a film well-worth your money. Enjoy!