“Hail, Caesar!”: The Coen Brothers’ Love Letter To Old Hollywood Unanswered

Post by Scott Stalcup

Homages to Hollywood’s Golden Age are not necessarily as rare as rocking horse shit, no.  The magnificent My Favorite Year starring Peter O’Toole (this man even made Supergirl and King Ralph worth sitting through!) and Mark Linn-Baker (If you only know him as “Cousin Larry,” please stop reading now.) springs to mind, as well as AMC’s proto-Mad Men piece, The Lot.

Doomed to a fate as undeserving as The Lot being forgotten in the growing stack of tomes devoted to long-form television is the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!  Its failure at the box office goes to illustrate the oft-repeated sentiment of my hero, Harlan Ellison, that the public taste has become so debased, people now consider elegance to be (updating for currency somewhat) Keeping Up with the Kardashians, E.L. James’ novel, and burr-E. Coli from Chipotle.  No irony lost that the film is about the Hollywood sausage machine with which Mr. Ellison had a rocky relationship, but that’s another story better told by Harlan.  Go buy his books if you haven’t yet.  All of them.

That the film has enough threads running through it to make Theseus throw up his hands in defeat and declare, “Screw it.  I’ll be the Minotaur’s labyrinth bitch!” might explain why the public avoided it like a prostitute leper with chronic flatulence.  Josh Brolin, inching ever closer to Ron Perlman’s twin, plays the overworked studio fixer Eddie Mannix, courted by Lockheed Martin whilst trying to locate gone-on-walkabout star Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney in full-on “chef salad” mode.

Having a hand in Whitlock’s disappearance is Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park, Seinfeld, Third Rock From the Sun) looking not out of place in Fellini’s Satyricon, after which Clooney becomes involved with a group of communists (if you pay close attention, the Stalin-esque fellow prone to being overly dramatic in the meeting scenes is David Krumholtz; his show NUMB3RS almost made me enjoy Maths!) meeting at the house of Channing Tatum’s character, Burt Gurney, whose homoerotic sailor dance number, directed by Christopher Lambert (Yup, Rayden/Connor MacLeod!), will ruin any lingering happy memories of Gene Kelly musicals you had, assuming any still existed after Xanadu.

In another thread, Scarlett Johansson plays unwed mother-to-be film star, DeeAnna Moran, whose “New Yawk” brassiness provides the most severe case of cognitive dissonance since Baby Herman in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Two words: fish ass).

For this no-name blogger with even less worthwhile opinion, the most jaw-dropping moment of the film, the biggest Dinah Shore-style kiss to Old Hollywood, comes in the person of Hobie Doyle, a character in the vein of Gene Autry/Roy Rogers, but whose resemblance to a young Orson Welles bypasses “eerie” and goes right into thinking “How long before his portrayer, Alden Ehrenreich, is being pressed into service by Birdseye or Paul Masson?”  The resemblance is that uncanny!  I hope he has a very long career that does not end with him doing the voice of Unicron.

Factor in Tilda Swinton playing twin dueling gossip columnists and the obligatory wonderfully twisted Frances McDormand appearance, you are left only to conclude the nature of the universe is unjust at best, and chaotic at its worst, as the masses flock to Deadpool and Big Macs for afters.

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