Tuesday, August 31, 2010

They Took Him for A Fall Guy...But He Threw Them for a Hoop

Well I haven't been around much lately thanks to starting the school year.  Its my second year of teaching and guess what?  I feel a little bit more at home in the job.  Last week I started with a practice writing test and this week I started last year's lecture on grammar with a few new surprises, and I think I'm actually getting some of the kids to understand.  Also, this year's classes are basically good with only a few talkers with little to feed off of.  I tell you, everyday is like a vacation compared to what I did last year.  I'm really riding high.  We're only a few days away from a holiday weekend, so my endorphins are doing great.

Now lets talk about tonight's movie.  Its a lesser known little gem from the Cohen Brothers, before they hit it big with Fargo and after they had success with Raising Arizona.  This film hit middling audience appeal and mixed critical appeal upon its release and was an attempt at reaching mainstream audiences with a throwback to screwball comedies and the feel-good films of Frank Capra.  To enjoy the film, one needs to embrace a love of the bizarre and the over-the-top and that's exactly what I love when watching a comedy that emulates the old black and white films that I love.  Also, I think films with strange titles are usually great...so follow me as I take you through The Hudsucker Proxy.

Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) is a recent graduate of the Muncie College of Business Administration in 1958 and has just hit the streets of New York City looking for a job.  He manages to get a job in the mailroom of Hudsucker Industries at the same time that the company C.E.O., Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), decides to commit suicide by jumping from the 45th floor window oh his building.  Hudsucker's second in command, Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), realizes at that moment that the company's stock will go public on January 1st and they could lose control of the company to anyone.  The board of directors decides that they will hire a fake boss, a proxy, who will look like a huge financial risk and therefore allow the price of the stock to plummet so it can be bought cheaply.  Suddenly, after a terrible introduction, Mussburger decides to put Norville in the role of C.E.O. because he has no experience.  The stock drops fast and a tenacious reporter named Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) becomes convinced that Norville is a fraud and sets out to expose him.  However, Norville has a surprise up his sleeve.  Its round, inexpensive, and destined to take the nation by storm.  Will the proxy succeed or will the world of business crush him?

I really loved this movie.  I mean, its very much a fluff piece with a large budget and gets much of its entertainment value from referencing comedies from the 30s and 40s...but its a wonderful ride getting to the end.  The cold industrial look and huge stature of the sets makes you feel like you're in another world...a version of New York City that probably resides somewhere within miles of Tim Burton's vision of Gotham City from Batman Returns.  The performances are also genuine and satirical at the same time.  Tim Robbins displays a fine grasp of the everyman character that was popularized by Jimmy Stewart...with a generous dash of Don Knotts' penchant for clumsiness and good-natured foolishness. Paul Newman is also delightfully miserly as the scrooge-like Mussburger, who could easily have gotten along with Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life.  Hard to believe he was ever a heartthrob in the role.  My personal favorite, however, is Jennifer Jason Leigh's turn as the fast-talking, tough cookie reporter who carries herself like Rosalind Russel from His Girl Friday and speaks as fast as Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby.  She really sells the authenticity of the film as a throwback to that type of movie, and it reminds me of why I admired those characters in those films.  She's not a wimp, she's got bite and yet she also has a tender side that is completely believable when she allows Robbins' Norville to get close to her.  It is not often that an actor achieves such a spot-on homage and that success must be applauded.  I hope by now that you have decided to give The Hudsucker Proxy a look based on my recommendation, it is a funny and witty feel-good film that is better than one might think.  Give it a try, you might discover a new favorite.

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