The Coen Brothers’ 1950s-set Hollywood Studio comedy is an endlessly, effortlessly entertaining flight of fancy. If they only created it to delight themselves – which is how it possibly comes off – I have no beef with that.
Structured as the day in the life of the fictional Capitol Studios’ Head of Physical Production Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the episodic structure allows the Coens to gently – lovingly – satirize Ben Hur, On The Town, Manhattan melodramas, singing cowboy pictures and water ballets while also glancing at communist screenwriters, rival sibling gossip columnists, the rise of the Californian aerospace industry and Carmen Miranda. It’s all a colorful hoot.
The real Mannix was not the head of a studio but rather a mob-connected studio “fixer”, and while Brolin’s character shares attributes with the infamous heavy, the fanciful way he’s named is representative of the film’s whole alternative-universe, take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt aesthetic. George Clooney plays a Charlton Heston type – but one who is swayed by communism. Channing Tatum is a Gene Kelly, but hardly the Gene Kelly, and Tilda Swinton plays identical twin sister columnists who are barely disguised substitutes for Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons – who weren’t related. Perhaps the most delightful performance comes from the little-known Alden Ehrenreich, who plays a Kirby Grant Jr. style singing cowboy forced to not only join the cast of a picture where he has to speak – “to other people!” (not horses) – but also to foil an extortion scheme.
It’s all very silly and all very Coen at their lightest. It’s extremely easy to digest, pretty as a picture, and constantly gently amusing with a few huge belly laughs. If you really don’t care for Hollywood history, I suppose it would be possible to hate this gorgeous, loving pastiche. The more you care, the more gags there are to tickle you. I was tickled pink.