The nuances and comedic timing of Joel and Ethan Coen is detrimental to their success as directors. Their ability to weave dark humour into the fabric of relatively straight-forward pieces is fascinating to me, and how seamlessly they manage to make this connection is inspiring. The Hudsucker Proxy proves that even the best have their misfires, and this Tim Robbins led piece inspires little in the way of innovation. All the classic components of a Coen Brothers collaboration appear in broad strokes, but never in a focused enough mindset to provide something that isn’t a sweeping, rather bland statement with uninspired characters and a rather drab realisation of its script.
It’s a real shame, considering how much I was looking forward to The Hudsucker Proxy. Following Norville Barnes (Robbins), a plucky start-up looking to make his way in the world of business, he finds himself working for a manufacturing company, ending up as the fall guy for a stock market scam conjured up by Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman). It’s an interesting story, with a resounding cast featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Campbell, Charles Durning and John Mahoney. Its incredible cast is just that, solid from start to finish, their performances aren’t the issue throughout this one. What really stops these performances from being innovative and engaging is their lack of direction and conviction.
There are moments throughout The Hudsucker Proxy where it’s clear to see the satirical intentions of the Coen Brothers, but they lack the persuasion needed to make it work for me. Grandiose set designs that feel drab and uninspired, they capture the iconography of the 1950s, but sacrifice interesting style and flourish to do so. As the film trundles on, it becomes more and more clear that the crew are running on fumes, an ultimately futile way to round-off the story is presented, and it’s underwhelming and a tad trivial to say the least. Robbins’ performance is mired by these moments, but he struggles on through with a solid leading role, one that certainly cements him as a formidable leading force. He has decent chemistry with Leigh, and more than enough well-versed moments with Newman.
A satirical jab at consumerism that lacks the heart or depth you can find in other takedowns of industrialisation, The Hudsucker Proxy is a fun, if frustrating time. A coy leading character that finds himself in over his head in rather traditional and unfulfilling fashion, Robbins’ portrayal leads us nowhere under the scattershot writing from the Coen Brothers and collaborator Sam Raimi. All the pieces are there, but they don’t fit together as they should, lacking profundity and insight, degrading itself to comic takedowns that saunter through on a wave of mediocrity.