Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

A Comedy of Invention.

The Coen brothers (Raising Arizona, Fargo) have become the most consistently original filmmakers in the land. In a salute/reworking of the fast-talking comedies of the '40s, we follow Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) and his amazing rise to the top. But he's only a puppet for the evil Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), who wants the company for himself. The Coens' design is the real star, and their first big-budget film will stimulate movie fans. The story weakens in the middle, but you will find very few films that move with this much imagination. As a Kate Hepburn hybrid, Jennifer Jason Leigh is wonderful in an almost unplayable role. The less you know about the film, the better it plays, so just think of it as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying mixed with Brazil and every journalistic drama made before 1960. Cowritten by Sam Raimi. --Doug Thomas

(pictures from another source)

It's 1958, and Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) is a schmuck from out of town, come to make his fortune in New York. Meanwhile, Hudsucker Industries, headed by the scheming Sidney J. Mussberger (Paul Newman), is looking for a total idiot to stand in as president for a while. Slap the two together, throw in a motormouth journalist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and you've made yourself a new kind of comedy: retro-screwball. But shouldn't moviemakers be investigating the modern implications of screwball, instead of retreading old ground? Still, Joel and Ethan Coen (who wrote the screenplay with Sam Raimi) know every inch of that ground, and the resulting act of homage provides their most likable film since "Raising Arizona." It means almost nothing, and slips out of your mind the moment you leave the theatre, but for a couple of hours it feels bright and brassy, shot in the clean, vertiginous style that the Coen brothers have made their own. The casting is a bit off-key: Robbins is too practiced a smoothie to make a credible jerk, and Leigh's Katharine Hepburn impersonation may tear at your nerves. Newman has a lot of fun; he unwinds the picture, relaxing its desperate need to show off. Joel Coen directed -Anthony Lane Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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