In 1994, my son was a year old and we were in a long run of not trusting babysitters with our firstborn bundle of joy. Thus it was that "The Hudsucker Proxy," a Coen brothers film made in that year, slipped under my radar.
Or maybe not.
I remember wondering about that crazy title and being put off by it. Apparently, a lot of people were put off, because it was a box office bomb.
Reason enough for Netflix to put it on its "Watch Instantly" option, which, I am coming to see, contains quite a few bombs.
"The Hudsucker Proxy" did not, however, bomb at my home box office.
This is a wonderful film. When I finished watching it, I told the beloved that it was ahead of its time. After blathering some other nonsensical praise about it, I said again, "This was ahead of its time."
"You said that already," said the beloved, and went back to her "Pretty Little Liars" novel.
It bears repeating. But it's a bit ironic, too. "The Hudsucker Proxy" is a movie set in the past-- both a tribute to and comment on classic movies of Hollywood, from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" in the 20's to "Meet John Doe" and "His Girl Friday" in the 40's. Set in 1958, the last gasp before the 60's would modernize everyone, "The Hudsucker Proxy" is about a goofy guy with ambition (Tim Robbins, very appealing) from Muncie, Indiana who comes to New York City to make it big. Through a series of accidents and machinations, he is made president of Hudsucker Industries, a mega-corporation with headquarters located in a 44-story skyscraper ("45 if you count the mezzanine"). What comes next is for everyone to enjoy.
So how could such an "oldie" be ahead of its time?
In 1994, reviewers complained that the movie had no soul-- that you couldn't root for the characters because they were given no genuine humanity.
That seems so laughably quaint nowadays, in our postmodern age of intentional subversion and intertextuality-- even magical realism. The Coen brothers are always telling a story AND making a comment, winking, pointing out artifice, showing that the story is, after all, a story. I love that about them.
Except that the reviewers got it wrong. The story is a good story, too, and there is great humanity in it. Even though I noticed all the nods and winks, I went along with the story, too, and at the end I was right there with the characters, wondering how the bacon was going to be pulled out of the fire.
Some things help quite a bit in making me care about the story:
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Amy Archer, hard-boiled investigative reporter, apparently trying to channel Katherine Hepburn and getting Cary Grant instead. What fun.
- Paul Newman as Sidney J. Mussberger, the villainous, cigar-chomping VP of Hudsucker Industries. ("Sure, sure").
- The quick-as-lightning, sharp-as-a-scimitar dialogue. You like old movies? You'll love this script. And it's better because of the nods and winks. Especially Miss Leigh's. I just appreciate how every feisty lady in the movies is captured in Amy Archer.
Plus, it's important for today.
You want to root against corporate boards manipulating stock prices for their own ends? You got it. Want to look back at the time when every working stiff had a job for life if they just made good at it (Obama mentioned this in the State of the Union just the other day). Nostalgia's right there-- along with the understanding that no one ever had it that good. 1958, my dad assured me once, was a recession year. Want to give thanks for the women's movement that made touchy, overanxious "career-girl" oddballs like Amy Archer an artifact (that was on Fresh Air just the other day)? Feast.
Anyway, if you don't like it, write me and I'll apologize for wasting your time.