The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, and Sam Raimi

Rather unfairly dismissed as a "flop" upon its release, The Hudsucker Proxy stands up quite well, its grandeur more obvious in the wake of Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and its critical standing less informed by knee-jerk media bullshit.

Though overlong by at least a half hour, the film is brilliantly executed, stuffing in every conceivable old-movie cliché it can, and gliding gracefully on the strength of its many outstanding performances.

Paul Newman, especially, is a hoot as the coldhearted business executive out to tank his company's stock so as to buy it up himself, and Jennifer Jason Leigh has never been better as the fast-talking news reporter who goes "undercover" to uncover the truth about the sudden appointment of "imbecile" mailroom clerk Tim Robbins as company president.

Robbins is enigmatic, perfectly pegging the odd semi-dumbness of Norville Barnes, a patsy selected to devalue the company, whose invention of the Hula Hoop ends up making the company even more valuable. There are some amazingly awkward blank stare moments when he shows people his design (a simple circle), explaining it with "You know … for kids!"

The script features many classic Coen Brothers moments, my favorite being the tangential cutaway, as Paul Newman dangles from the 44th floor of the Hudsucker building, held fast by his pants, to a scene where Newman declines his tailor's entreaty to go with double stitching. Cut back to Newman hanging upside down, looking at his pants, pausing, and uttering simply: "Damn."

Funny enough, but then they cut back to the tailor, who talks aloud as he makes Newman's pants, deciding to double-stitch them anyway because Newman is such a good guy.

It's this magical absurdity that puts the Coens in their own category entirely. They're so much better than virtually any of their peers, it's a treat to watch them dance.

Hudsucker wrangles laughs from many strange things, one of the best being an orchestral swell accompanying a kiss between Robbins and Leigh which is so utterly sarcastic that you get the feeling the laugh is really on you.

Which is one of the things I love about the Coens' movies, and yet it's something I'll acknowledge as a flaw. They haven't often allowed themselves to make something truly beautiful, but their subversion is done so damn well I can't argue too fiercely.

Review by Suzie Cant