American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Two little creatures are perched on my shoulders, one whispering into each ear. One carries a pitchfork. The other has gossamer wings.
They are dictating this review of "The Hudsucker Proxy." Angel: This is the best-looking movie I've seen in years, a feast for the eyes and the imagination. The art direction and set design are breathtaking, re-creating the world of 1930s screwball comedy in which towering skyscrapers and vast boardrooms were the playing fields for the ambitions of corrupt executives, ambitious kids, unsung geniuses, and lady newspaper reporters with nails as sharp as their wisecracks.
Devil: But the problem with the movie is that it's all surface and no substance. Not even the slightest attempt is made to suggest that the film takes its own story seriously. Everything is style. The performances seem deliberately angled as satire.
Angel: But those performances are right on target. Tim Robbins stars, as a mailroom clerk who finds himself thrust into the presidency of the giant Hudsucker Corporation. Paul Newman is the gray eminence behind the scenes, who engineers Robbins' ascendancy because he believes the kid is hopelessly incompetent, and will drive the stock price down - just what Newman desires. And Jennifer Jason Leigh has been studying Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday," and has the part down perfect: The hard-bitten, fast-talking girl reporter who sits on your desk, lights a cigarette, and lays down the law. Devil: So what? Was there anyone in this movie to really care about? And did the screwball aspects of the story ever take hold? Screwball comedy needs a certain looseness, an anarchic spirit that's alien to the meticulous productions of the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, who in this film as in their others ("Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink") seem to be so much in love with old movies that they shape their own ideas into the forms of films made before they were born.