The Coen Brothers are clearly having a ball with this giddy screwball comedy set during the last hurrah of Hollywood’s Golden Age – and their affectionate pastiche of the era’s movies and manners is so exuberantly playful that it’s easy for the viewer to join in the fun.
Hail, Caesar! depicts 27 hours in the life of Josh Brolin’s diligent studio fixer, Eddie Mannix, as he goes about his business of getting stars out of jams, averting scandals and generally untangling any kinks in the Capitol Pictures production line. The studio is fictional but Mannix shares his name with a real MGM executive of the period.
The problems he is called on to solve include covering up the pregnancy of an unmarried star (Scarlett Johansson), shoehorning a singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) into a tony drawing-room drama and deflecting the prurient curiosity of twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played, hilariously, by Tilda Swinton).
His biggest headache, however, is the disappearance of dim-witted leading man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) from the set of a kitschy biblical epic (Ben-Hur in all but name). It turns out that a cabal of communist screenwriters have abducted Baird and are busy indoctrinating him in the finer points of Das Kapital in a swanky Malibu beach house.
The intrigue is engagingly goofy, but the plot is really just an excuse for the Coens to spoof a series of Hollywood genres with gleeful precision. Their pastiche films are a joy, brazenly silly but pulled off with old-school panache. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see Johansson in a mermaid’s tail (for an Esther Williams-like aqua musical) or Channing Tatum in a sailor suit (for a Gene Kelly-style shore-leave romp), now’s your chance.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 106 mins. Directors Joel Coen, Ethan Coen