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In Peter Travers’ review of Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2008 comedy Burn After Reading, Travers assumes that the respect the siblings received from 2007’s Best Picture-winner No Country for Old Men must be “driving them nuts.” He then explains a certain pattern he noticed, mentioning how they followed their dramatic debut Blood Simple with the surreal Southern-set comedy Raising Arizona as well as 1996’s acclaimed comic thriller Fargo with the stoner cult comedy The Big Lebowski two years later, among others.
Having most recently directed three Academy Award-nominated films in a row (True Grit, A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis), they must be feeling the pressure now more than ever. If that is true, it certainly shows in what must be their zaniest, most off-putting and scatterbrained film yet: Hail, Caesar!
To describe the plot of this comedy, from Universal Pictures, would be like explaining a bowl of fruit to a produce employee. Set in the 1950s, it is essentially a day in the life of fictional Capitol Pictures studio manager Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fictionalized take on a real-life Hollywood “fixer” in the 50s of the same name, as he walks around the studio observing the increasingly bizarre events surrounding most of his actors while trying to keep it all under wraps.
The marketing of the film has created the misleading illusion that the film revolves around the production of a historical epic called Hail, Caesar! and the kidnapping of its star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney in his fourth collaboration with the Coen Brothers). That might actually be the least interesting of the film’s several seemingly random storylines. They do eventually intertwine, but in a very loosely tied knot.
Scarlett Johansson makes a couple of brief appearances as a troubled actress whose real life does not match her public status. Channing Tatum first performs an overlong dance number before appearing once more in a scene near the end that, without giving anything away, has no other connection to his first scene. Tilda Swinton makes a dual performance as twin gossip columnists competing for the best story. Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand both have, maybe, three lines. Ralph Fiennes’ only contribution is as stingy a filmmaker struggling to direct young actor Hodie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich).
Ironically, Ehrenreich, the least recognizable member of the cast, is the most consistent presence in the film other than Brolin and Clooney, but his storyline does win the prize for most random occurrences, not that that was an easy contest. The Coens’ script is practically an arena in which each scene is a new round in a competition to decide which scene is the most incoherent yet.
Hail, Caesar! is an easy film to read (I interpreted it as a commentary on what went on behind the scenes in 1950s Hollywood) but an exhausting film to watch and, for that matter, the first film I have seen from the Coen Brothers to disappoint me. Despite amazing visuals, compliments of cinematographer Roger Deakins, and a few good laughs, this is no country for old Coen Brothers fans.
“I don’t understand. It’ll just go away on its own,” freshman Laura Michaels said last Friday on the topic of gender inequality. “Honestly, why are we putting more women in films? That just further points out how underrepresented women are.”
Laura is one of the many students here on campus who feels that people nowadays are making much too big a deal out of things that would better go ignored. Just like that rash on your back that’s been slowly getting bigger and scarier looking over the past few weeks, social inequality is something that’ll probably just take care of itself.
“I mean, boys never treated me differently because I was a girl. I think all those ‘feminists’ out there really need to just relax,” Laura commented.
When asked about the wage gap that still exists between men and women, Laura articulated, “What?”
Gender inequality is not the only thing that we can just go ahead and forget about. Racism is another social justice issue that we can throw in our laundry basket full of dirty clothes that we know we really should’ve taken care of a long time ago.
“I really don’t get it. I’ve never personally been affected by racism. It doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a problem,” Caucasian sophomore Kevin Beyer said. “And people keep complaining about how white the Oscars are this year. Um, are they forgetting about that award ‘12 Years a Slave’ got that one time? Everybody needs to settle down and start ignoring all the racist things white people are still doing. Jeez.”
When Kevin’s friend pointed out to him that he once ignored the carton of milk sitting in his refrigerator for three months and it got so moldy that his entire residence hall smelled like dead animals, Kevin quipped, “But that’s totally not the same thing.”
Kevin and Laura are just some of the many students on campus who believe that problems are solved best by not talking about them, and they may be right. After all, those women suffrage and basic civil rights movements so many people risked their lives and liberty for probably weren’t necessary in the first place.