“Hail Caesar” is “Trumbo” as a Comedy
By Skip Sheffield
“Hail Caesar” is the Coen brothers comical answer to the ultra-serious “Trumbo.”
Set in the early 1950s, “Hail Caesar” is a story-within-a-story that spoofs Hollywood of the fading golden era.
The title refers to a sword and sandals epic that is really about the victory of Jesus Christ over the occupying Romans circa 33 A.D. George Clooney plays the larger-than-life star, Baird Whitlock. Baird plays a cruel Roman centurion who literally sees the light when Christ is crucified. That is if they can find Baird, who disappears from the set in mid-filming.
Cynical studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) figures Baird is off on another bender, but in fact Baird has been drugged and kidnapped and hauled off to a beautiful Malibu beach house where he meets members of “The Future.” It is a group of Hollywood screenwriters with Communist leanings, and they hope to indoctrinate Bird to their point of view. Oh, and they want $100,000 ransom.
“Hail Caesar” is a self-consciously aren’t-we-clever parody on 1950s Hollywood. Alden Ehrenreich plays drawling cowboy star Hobie Doyle who is drawn in over his head by effete director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) to be a romantic leading man. Scarlett Johansson is a hoot as an Esther Williams-style swimming actress who discovers she is pregnant and is have trouble fitting into her mermaid suit.
Tilda Swindon does her deadpan best as twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker, obviously modelled on Anna Landers and Abigail van Buren
The list goes on. There’s Channing Tatum as devious actor Burt Gurney; Jonah Hill as clueless accountant Joseph Silverman and Veronica Osorio as the Carmen Miranda-style Carlotta Valdez.
Though all the trials and tribulations is Eddie Mannix’ loyal secretary, Natalie (Heather Goldenhersh).
As someone who knows Hollywood history more than the average Joe, I got the jokes and laughed a lot at “Hail Caesar.” Someone without foreknowledge may be baffled. But everyone seems to be having fun.