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[Movie] Hail, Caesar

Hey you! Yeah you! I’m raising money for Act for Change, and in exchange I’ll drunk watch Gods of Egypt and chronicle my suffering for your enjoyment. Details here.

I’m guessing that if you’re a big enough fan of the Coen brothers, you will convince yourself that Hail, Caesar! is a work of genius. I’m not a big enough fan to be able to do that. Setting aside the douchey stuff the Coen brothers said when questioned about the blindingly white cast of this movie, which left me annoyed enough that I felt more compelled to see Deadpool a second time on Hail, Caesar!‘s opening weekend, it’s honestly not that good of a movie.

It’s got some of the quirky fun that made O Brother, Where Art Thou? fun and worth rewatching. It just doesn’t have anything like the narrative coherence that made that movie an excellent piece of art.

Hail, Caesar! is nominally the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), in charge of Capital Pictures, and follows him through about two days while he’s trying to get principle filming finished on the titular movie. (So yeah, it’s one of those film with in a film things that can sometimes get a little too masturbatory for anyone else to enjoy.) The star of the film,  Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), gets kidnapped by communists and throws the whole thing into disarray. Then there are a lot of other side issues that Mannix is dealing with, showing how busy and stressed he is, and at the end he decides that as hard as his job is, he’s going to keep it. There is also a narrator that sounds straight out of a Biblical film, which is fun I guess, since in the fictional movie Hail, Caesar! is actually about a Roman coming to believe in Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of fun little set pieces in this, little homages to the films of the 50s and 60s, including an extended synchronized swimming sequence involving Scarlett Johanson, and a gay sailor tap-dancing revue with Channing Tatum where they sing about how there are no dames. I would have rather watched the whole “no dames” musical, since I do love me some singing and tap dancing. But these things ultimately end up feeling self-indulgent and almost all (except the tapdancing, but I love tap so much) go on long past the point of boredom. There isn’t a narrative thread that binds all of this together; the plot in this movie is damn weak. And yes, I get that perhaps this is supposed to be more of a comedic character study of Mannix, but the Coen Brothers spend so much time in the minutiae that Mannix is completely lost. I don’t care about him as a character. He’s supposed to be struggling with if he’s going to keep his job or move on to something less stressful, and there’s no room for that between the minor plot lines that he’s trying to juggle.

This doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like a collection of index cards with “wouldn’t this be fun?” ideas that got pulled of a cork board and filmed. I enjoyed individual funny scenes because they were clever and had some fun stylistic and visual gags. I could not have given less of a crap about the whole.

And it’s not surprising that the Coen’s were jerkily defensive about their casting choices. I saw only three non-white characters in the entire film, two of whom were the staff at a Chinese Restaurant. (Yeah, they used that trope.) The third was Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio), who was absolutely cute for the few minutes she was on stage. I wish we’d seen more of her and less of her studio set-up boyfriend, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). Sunil claims he saw an African-American extra in one of the scenes too, though he was not in focus and behind another actor.

The best thing about this movie was that I got to see it with Sunil. And that has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with, you know, Sunil. If you cannot convince Sunil to go with you (not bloody likely), ask yourself if ten minutes of Channing Tatum tapdancing are worth the price of admission.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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