The latest from the Coen Brothers, unless they’ve made another one while I’ve been typing this sentence, is Hail Caesar!, a curious mashup of nostalgic vignettes honoring old Hollywood and some kind of muddled effort to reckon with the blacklisting of communists in the 50s. Like Barton Fink (though a lot more fun), Hail Caesar! is best enjoyed for its moments — the caricatures of the standard issue Hollywood products of the era are wonderful, Frances McDormand as a kooky version of Thelma Schoonmaker is hilarious — than for its plot per se, which is pretty incoherent.
That said, one through-line does vibrate with significance. The main protagonist, a producer/fixer who works around the clock to maintain the purity of starlets and the sobriety of stars, is being courted by a Lockheed headhunter, who promises him a much easier and more remunerative job managing one of their plants. This is a crucial historical pivot in the history of California, and a brilliant touch on the Coens’ part. Just about now (1950 something), California’s about to change from a loose and rambling collection of farms and dreams to the most advanced and efficient munitions producer in history. In the movie, the Coens have the movie man turn down Lockheed’s offer. They wish.
Missed opportunity department: The Coens should have named the communist godfather figure at the beach house Gramsci instead of Marcuse. The anachronism would have been graver, yes (Gramsci died in 1937; Marcuse didn’t move to California until the mid-1960s), but imagine how tickled fans of Gramsci’s notes on Caesarism would have been!