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The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

  Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Sam Raimi
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Newman, Tim Robbins
Links: The Hudsucker Proxy on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Comedy

This movie gets: 9.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"9 out of 10! (not counting the mezzanine)" - a review by mino

Another day, another Joel Coen and Ethan Coen film review. This is the life, no?

Of all the films the Coens have made, The Hudsucker Proxy is very possibly the most accessible. While the Coens aren't exactly David Lynch when it comes to pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, the fact is that several of their films are so ‘quirky’ that I think a lot of people, having just watched one, would sit there scratching their heads and saying, in the manner of a certain very annoying TV presenter, ‘What the…?’. Hudsucker, though, is different. You can (as with most Coen films) look for multiple layers, and hidden meanings, and various subtleties and filmmaking quirks; but the fact is, Hudsucker is a damn fine run-of-the-mill comedy whose lack of mainstream acceptance therefore remains something of a mystery to me.

Tim Robbins is Norville Barnes, a lowly schmuck who has just graduated from business college. He gets a job in the mailroom at Hudsucker Industries, a beaureaucracy-heavy monolith whose founder, Waring Hudsucker, has just taken a rather unexpected dive out of the boardroom window during a board meeting. When the directors, led by the wily, cigar-chomping Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), find out that Hudsucker's stock will be sold to the public on his death, they have to come up with a plan to keep the share price down so they can snap the stock up themselves on the cheap. And what better way to depress the share price than to appoint a bumbling, awkward mailroom boy to the role of president?

What happens next is, well, great fun. Barnes, of course, isn't quite the pushover that Mussburger thinks; but if there's one thing he's not, it's predictable. Mussburger has his hands full trying to corral Barnes where he wants him, particularly when a local newspaper sends its hardbitten star reporter to find out the story behind this hillbilly who's just been placed in charge of one of the largest companies in America.

It's hard to watch The Hudsucker Proxy and not think of two other films: Forrest Gump (1994) and Brazil (1985). I loathed Gump, but thankfully the comparisons are purely thematic. Like Gump, The Hudsucker Proxy gets a lot of its humour from the skewed perspective it gives to a different time period. For Gump, it's the Vietnam war (and thereabouts); for Hudsucker, the late 1950s. Familiar historical events and themes occur in both, but with a quirky twist, which is great fun. And the similarities to Brazil are fairly obvious, particularly in the early part of the film where Norville has to deal with the crushing rigidity of Hudsucker Industries (witness the famous orientation scene: “Move any article without a voucher and they dock you. Letter size a green voucher, oversize a yellow voucher, parcel size a maroon voucher. Wrong color voucher and they dock you! 6787049A/6. That is your employee number. It will not be repeated! Without your employee number you cannot get your paycheck. Inter-office mail is code 37, intra-office mail 37-3, outside mail is 3-37. Code it wrong and they dock you! … If you have not been fully oriented, you must file a complaint with personnel. File a faulty complaint and they dock you!”). The dark visuals of looming gargantuan machinery and so on are also very Terry Gilliam-esque, which can't be a bad thing.

While the trademark Coen Brothers slant on things, and their brilliant dialogue (Sam Raimi also has a writing credit) makes The Hudsucker Proxy a good film, it's the acting that makes it truly great. Robbins does the ‘naïve fish out of water’ thing so well, whether ‘seriously’ (The Shawshank Redemption (1994)), or comedically, as here. Jennifer Jason Leigh is sublime as the domineering, fast-talking newspaper reporter, once you get over her incredibly irritating (but beautifully done) accent, and the cynical, greedy Mussburger is Newman at his absolute best. Throw in the seemingly obligatory Coen Brothers Steve Buscemi cameo (this time, he's a beatnik bartender) and a charmingly jaunty musical score, and you've got an absolutely wonderful feelgood, laugh-out-loud movie which is, in my opinion, not rated nearly as highly as it ought to be by many.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 12 Aug 2004

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