The Coen Brothers 1994 riff on the rat race of American capitalism is hollow, naive, financially delinquent, and deserves reappraisal as a modern American holiday classic. “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994) opens with the suicide of Waring Hudsucker, the CEO of Hudsucker Industries. He jumps out of the 54th floor (55th, if you count the mezzanine) window during a mostly good-news board meeting. The board members, more concerned with the state of their stock than his death and led by a belligerent Sidney Musberger (Paul Newman), devise a plan to hire a proxy, or idiot, as their new President in order to tank the stock. They just happen to choose the wrong idiot.
Tim Robbins plays Norville Barnes with broad comedic strokes retroactively evoking the same loving-innocence mixed with stupidity that Will Ferrel would bring to his mid-2000’s roles (“Elf”, “Anchorman”, “Kicking and Screaming”). He may not be the brightest protagonist, but he has ideas. His major breakthrough would become the “Hula Hoop,” you know, for kids.
While lacking substance, though, the Coen’s, with whom Sam Raimi wrote the script, litter the film with homage and visual flourishes that enhance the broad comedic structure. It’s clearly intended to inspire nostalgic appreciation of films such as “The Apartment” (1960), “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946), and even “Modern Times” (1936).
Perhaps it’s the overall sardonic tone the Coens often bring to their work that distances this film from the viewer. By my calculation though, it was enough of a financial flop to be reconsidered as a cult-Christmas classic. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
“Long live the Hud!”
A Few Notes:
- The Coens take a break from their normal cast here. With, I think, the only regulars showing up are Steve Buscemi and Jon Polito in small cameo roles.
- It’s visually striking. I imagine the intent was to focus on the visuals and nostalgic atmosphere surrounding 40’s and 50’s romance classics and to let character and story substance suffer. I think they learn how to balance these elements later in their work with films such as “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001) and “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)
- This is a stretch but this film includes many abstract references to the future which seems to be a major proponent in “Hail, Caesar!” (2016). I’m not implicating any connection between the two, it’s just something I noticed on this viewing.