“Hail, Caesar!” is a witty Hollywood comedy by the Coen Brothers. It is formatted as a series of vignettes that explore the behind the scenes mishaps of several productions at a film studio. The ensemble cast creates a mosaic of 1950’s Hollywood that encompasses several different perspectives. First, it serves as an homage to classic film production as many scenes introduce an onscreen performance and then transition into the production going on behind the cameras. This backstage look reveals the drama at the center of the story. The film also pays tribute to the popular genres of the 50’s including ancient Roman epics, cheesy musical comedies, aquatic spectacles, period dramas, and Westerns. Finally, it reveals the necessity for studios in this era to produce overly optimistic (and often subpar) films in order to battle the fear created by the Cold War. The script is delightful, filled with the clever dialogue that is characteristic of a Coen Brothers script. The religious discussion is one of my favorite scenes of 2016 and the film really deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Each member of the ensemble cast pitches in for an entertaining ride though no character really emerges as the star. I expected George Clooney to be at the center of the plot but it was actually Josh Brolin who tied the whole story together. Tilda Swinton never receives enough credit and her turn as the twin rival gossip columnists is another highly entertaining example of her acting talent and ability to be memorable even in the smallest of roles. Her comedic timing is wonderful, as is also the case with Ralph Fiennes and Frances McDormand. The chemistry between Alden Ehrenrich and Emily Beecham was adorable and it will be interesting to see Ehrenrich transform from this singing cowboy into Han Solo in the upcoming "Star Wars" spinoff. Finally, I truly believe that a movie studio needs to cast Channing Tatum in his own 1950's tap dance extravaganza. I was completely mesmerized by his dance sequence and found it to be the highlight of the film. Despite only being nominated for one Oscar, I think that it is appropriate for the nomination to be for Best Production Design. Each “working film” represented in this story required an elaborate onscreen set and an elaborate backstage work area that are divided by a fourth wall that is maintained and then removed mid-scene. The entire thing is well-conceived and even better executed. “Hail, Caesar!” was one of the best comedies of 2016 and is a must-see, even if the Oscar nominations did not give it enough credit.
[Pictured: Great set design, fun period costumes, a clever script, and Channing Tatum’s tap skills make “Hail, Caesar!” an enjoyable trip back to 1950’s Hollywood]