No one does genre films quite like the Coen brothers. The duo manage to take existing and often tired film genres and bring an entirely fresh, as well as completely unique perspective to them. With 1994’s “The Hudsucker Proxy,” Joel and Ethan Coen delivered their version of a screwball comedy.
Tim Robbins stars as Norville Barnes, a bumbling mail-room clerk who unexpectedly becomes a proxy for the largely successful Hudsucker Industries. Norville is but a pawn in a larger scheme of Sidney J. Mussburger, a member of Hudsucker’s Board of Director’s who plots to take control of the company before its stock goes public.
“The Hudsucker Proxy” oozes with film history. While the Coen’s have been suspected of being influenced by the films of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges, the dialogue, story and characters instantly reminded me of a Frank Capra picture. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s fast talking news reporter seems like a hybrid of actress Katherine Hepburn and Clark Gable’s Peter Warne character in “It Happened One Night.” And like Hepburn and Gable, her speech rhythm is a pure joy to listen to.
Of course what sets “Hudsucker” apart from classic screwball comedies is that special brand of idiosyncratic humor and style that makes a Coen Brothers immediately recognizable. However, unlike classic Capra films, or some of the Coen’s other work, I never really cared that much about what happened to the movie’s protagonist. Norville lacks the immediate relatability of Jimmy Stewart or naive charm of Claudette Colbert.
It’s still a shame that the movie was a critical and box-office bomb when it was released. “The Hudsucker Proxy” is great fun to watch and wonderful throwback to an almost forgotten genre. While “Barton Fink” remains my favorite Coen Brother’s film, “The Hudsucker Proxy” reinforces my belief that the pair can do just about anything.
I am not a fan of romantic comedies. Of all the film genre’s, I find the predictability and cliché plot devices that dominate modern rom coms to be extremely irritating. Originality and creativity are stifled in the story mandate of bringing a two people together, often through frivolous zany antics and dialogue that instantly makes my eyes roll. Well, leave it to the Coen Brother to make a romantic comedy that I actually like.
“Intolerable Cruelty” might go as one of the pair’s less celebrated works, but that doesn’t make any less enjoyable. George Clooney stars as a top divorce attorney who finds himself smitten with a con woman, played by Catherine Zeta Jones. Both characters are as in love with themselves as they may be with each other and their dynamic makes them worthy adversaries, as wel as potential lovers.
Clooney and Jones work terrifically off one another, matching each other’s wit and creating palpable romantic chemistry. Clooney is his usual charming self, channeling Carey Grant as I feel he is prone to do. Jones is quieter, more particular in the way she reveals her character’s personality. She exudes an attractive sense of mystery, keeping the viewer guessing as to her true intentions.
In true Coen brother’s fashion, it is the the nuanced quirks found in its characters and in the storyline that elevates “Intolerable Cruelty” from the genre’s traps. The film points funs at the contrivances and absurdities that romantic comedies are often prone to indulge in. The Coen’s are aware of the genre beats they are ‘suppose’ to hit and cleverly subvert them.
“Intolerable Cruelty” is a lot of fun to watch, but I would recommend a lot of other Coen brother’s before this one. The film just never reaches the heights of the duo’s best work, but it’s definitely a cut above any other modern romantic comedy.
A solid Western in the style of old John Ford classics. Great performances all around. Features the witty dialogue and unique humor I’ve come to expect from the Coen’s.
While in Mexico, I finished rereading Cormac McCarthy’s stellar novel and decided to rewatch the Coen Brother’s film upon returning. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this damn movie? The cast is great, the scenes incredibly powerful and the themes biting and poignant.
When I first saw the film it was Bardem’s character that stuck with me with the most, but upon further viewings (and reading the book) it’s Jones’ disillusioned sheriff that haunts my memories.
The Coen Brothers show some incredible attention to detail in recreating the look, feel and themes of classic Noir films. Billy Bob Thorton is a perfect affectless hero.