We are all looking for something until we find it. With their typical humor and wit, the Coen Brothers have delivered a film about the quest for that thing (whatever it may be) for a cast of characters ripped out of 1951 Hollywood, with its Communists, Cold War, and economics. And, as can’t be ignored, it sports a long line of A-list and B-list actors to poke fun at itself all while romping around California.
Michael Gambon narrates, but Josh Brolin’s fixer Eddie Mannix is the story’s glue. He’s supposed to solve studio problems when stars get into trouble, whether it’s taking inappropriate pictures in studio costume, drinking too much and skipping shots, or, in the case of Baird Whitlock, getting kidnapped by Communists. But while Mannix is our viewpoint, he’s not really in control, because, well, no one is.
Hobbie Doyle (Aiden Ehrenreich, who is about to be Han Solo the younger) is a singing cowboy who wants to be taken seriously. Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is a big time director who can’t get the actors he wants, but settles for training those he has. DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is the bombshell who is pregnant but who can’t give up the baby and won’t get married at Mannix’s assistance. Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) is… more than meets the eye.
It’s all a bit much. But the Coen Brothers delivered Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Burn After Reading, so it’s not just the over-the-top violence they know how to wrangle. This is period-piece work, and clever, but it’s the kind of funny that doesn’t generate many laugh out loud moments, just shakes of the head. (One of the many ironies is seeing the way that Hollywood is being critiqued by some of its biggest stars who play its biggest games…)
In one early scene, Mannix tries to run the script of a film by a rabbi, a Protestant minister, and a Catholic priest. He wants to know if the portrayal of Jesus is offensive, but the men are more inclined to tell him that they think the chariot chase is ridiculous. Mannix wants to know that the film will not be offensive to “any American regardless of creed,” which in itself is ironic and ridiculous: Jesus was and still is offensive to people because of what he taught, but to Hollywood, there’s an expectation that Jesus can be watered down until everyone who accept that version of Jesus. Unfortunately, many churches do that, too, right?
Special features on the Blu-ray include a look at the Coens’ intentions in “Directing Hollywood,” the cast’s response in “The Stars Align,” and the setup to the glamour and glitz in “An Era of Glamour” and “Magic of a Bygone Era,” with cast, crew, costumes, and set.