Saturday, January 17, 2015

SW Watches: The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

I'm not entirely clear on the reason, but The Hudsucker Proxy took a beating both critically and at the box office upon its release in 1994.  I saw it for my 19th birthday with JAL, and we loved the hell out of this thing.  It was immediately added to the list of highly quotable movies, and added the word "Dingus" to my vocabulary.  In '95, when we all showed up for the first day of the highly competitive film production program at UT and people asked what we wanted to make, I said something about Star Wars and then paused as all the folks who just talked about Truffaut and whatnot around the room glared at me, and said "You know...  for kids!".

JAL thought it was funny, at least.

Maybe the movie is too ambitious for it's own good.  Maybe it broke the Coen Bros' SOP a bit too much to work with a real budget and to have name stars like Paul Newman in the room.  The plot is less ambitious than Miller's Crossing, but perhaps too complicated for the light-comedy audience that doesn't want to keep up with the whole "circles and wheels of time" symbolism, metaphor, imagery, etc..  that absolutely permeates the film, right down to a Hula Hoop as the failure and success of a corporation's fortunes (and we can talk about throwing a disc out the window as the film' conclusion some other time).

I dunno.  But reviews at the time weren't good, and even when critics discuss the movie today, it's with a bit of a sigh, like Jennifer Jason Leigh doesn't totally kill it in every scene she's in.

Those critics can kind of go to hell, in my humble opinion.

The movie isn't flawless, but it is ambitious, and mostly successful.  It's certainly not the digestible romp of Raising Arizona that has enough in the way of wacky hijinks frontloading the movie that the oddly somber and serious tone of the last 10 minutes or so that really do change the whole movie are often forgotten.  And it's not the Dashiell Hammett love fest (replete with visuals lifted from European films like Le Samourai and The Conformist) that was Miller's Crossing, nor the "we dare you to criticize this" walk into abstraction of Barton Fink.

pretty much me explaining myself every day of my life til I was 25

I will agree the movie does run long, and probably should have found a way or two to trim the third act.  But the movie is so well crafted in its way, and so intentional in its design and delivery, every frame seems meticulously planned and part of the greater machinery of The Hud.   In some ways, maybe it was so crafted it became sterile to some viewers.

and me explaining myself today
The Coens hit their highwater mark in casting people who "look the part" for parts both large and small.  They put together a great primary cast including Paul Newman in a role that went against type but for which he was perfectly suited.  The cinematography, art direction and Burwell's score are all on the money.  And the movie is genuinely funny, from slapstick to great dialog to repeating ideas echoing throughout the movie and following that whole idea that time is a wheel, and everything is a circle.

And as good as Newman, Mahoney and Tim Robbins are...

Jennifer Jason Leigh.

and who doesn't like a big city, fast talkin' news gal who can go toe-to-toe and better with any boy in that newsroom?
The movie has been forgotten in the wake of The Big Lebowski (slated for a rewatch this week, if I have my way), Fargo and No Country For Old Men.  But it's a worthy entry in the astounding library of Coen Bros. movies that puts them far and away as some of the best filmmakers the US has produced.  The shame is that if this wasn't by these guys, people would probably have a much higher view of the thing and remember it as part of the 90's renaissance of interesting movie making.

Oh, well.  I like it, anyway.

Saw at:  Home on DVD
Saw with:  Jamie.  Until she went to bed.


The League said...

Through various social media outlets, I've been asked by folks "who doesn't like Hudsucker Proxy?".

Here's the Rottentomatoes page:

It's got a 58% rating from critics. and Top Critics were harsher (but you can't expect much from Owen Gleiberman unless it's a very particular kind of movie, so...).

It's possible the movie was simply ahead of its time in its way or didn't match the sensibilities of the critics of 1994. I find the suggestion that the movie is devoid of story or meaning puzzling,

Ebert's review is the most telling. He's talking about the movie after a first viewing and literally has a dialog with himself where you can tell he can tell he shouldn't be as hard on the movie as he wants to be:

I dunno.

picky said...

I remember my family watching this when I was younger, and the first thing that came to mind was: weird. But I definitely remember it, if that makes sense. It was quirky, but I think we all enjoyed it. Which is to say, I want to watch it again, especially after your review.

The League said...

Something that has struck me based upon your comments is that - until TCM, America really didn't have great access to classic film. TCM was fairly new during this era, and so it was unlikely anyone was really watching the sorts of films the movie is referencing, but it's entirely possible you've now seen a lot more stuff in the same vein. I know I hadn't watched all that many black and white movies until 1995 or so, and "black and white" was practically considered a genre and a handicap.

I don't know if this explains the critical reaction, but it feels like it may have impacted the public perception.

J.S. said...

An underrated film, to be sure. SMore people should have seen/should see this movie.