When this day ends so does 2013. Onto 2014 we go. New resolutions, which may be our old resolutions will be decreed, and once again we’ll attack our latest year with best of intentions. I’m not sure what 2014 will hold for me, haven’t even had the chance to think of what future I will carve out for myself, but I thought the Coen Brothers’ nearly twenty year old film, The Hudsucker Proxy, offered an opportunity to give it some thought.
Hudsucker Industries is at the pinnacle of its success and its founder, Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) decides there’s nowhere to go but down as he plummets forty-four floors (forty-five if you count the mezzanine) to the pavement below. As he leaves the world a captain of industry, an enthusiastic, wide-eyed Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) arrives at the company. He sky rockets from the mail room to the top thanks to the help of board member Sydney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman). As Hudsucker’s new president, the untested youth rocks the business world, many thinking him incompetent, which the Manhattan Argus’ Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) resolves to confirm. Undercover as Norville’s secretary, Amy discovers who Norville really is and isn’t, but also gets wind of Mussburger’s true intentions.
Like many, I am a huge fan of the Coen Brothers’ work. That’s because even if their story isn’t deemed spectacular or if it doesn’t particularly resonate with me, there are still many worthwhile elements. Be it the style, symbolism, performances, there’s always a reason to revisit a Coen film. In the case of the Hudsucker Proxy, it’s a little of all of the above.
Co-written with Sam Raimi, Hudsucker‘s style slaps you in the face from the first moment. Stark, towering skyscrapers stand immovable against the skyline while perfectly circular clocks and hoops and frisbees are continually moving. The story’s narrator Moses (Bill Cobbs) gets more into the philosophical aspects of it, and even if their deeper meanings aren’t all that interesting to you, they are still visually appealing. The beauty; that’s part of the beauty of a Coen Brothers’ film.
I enjoy The Hudsucker Proxy in large part to Tim Robbins performance. Robbin’s cheesy grin and gangly frame are befitting Norville’s eager optimism and often-remarked dimwittedness. Whether he’s trying to literally put out executive fires or staggering through the streets after one too many martinis, he’s so animated. The silliest and most wonderful of these physical antics is Norville’s re-enactment of his alma mater’s fight chant for Amy. Leigh’s Amy is a fast-talking, no nonsense gal who is modeled after characters from 40’s and 50’s films. Not one for the classics, I can’t attest to her aptitude at it, but her rapid delivery is impressive. Newman… well, he’s Newman and as such, always a delight. Actors Peter Gallagher, John Mahoney, and Bruce Campbell have brief, but entertaining roles. Of them, Charles Durning’s two scenes as Waring Hudsucker is most impressive. In one, he says nothing, while the other, he’s quite the riot.
Upon its release, The Hudsucker Proxy pretty much bombed. For all that I enjoy about it, it does come apart at the seams like a single-stitch pair of trousers around the time Norville fires Buzz (Jim True-Frost) the elevator guy. Were it released today, after years of accolades for both the Coen Brothers and Raimi, I wonder if perceptions would be different. No doubt to some extent. The Hudsucker Proxy may not be the best of their filmography, but it’s not their worst, and you could do worse things than give this eager young Muncie boy less than two hours of your time.