One year ago, the Asheville Film Society started off with the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple (1984), so what could be more natural than to mark the event with another Coen film? The one chosen, The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), is one of their less-known and less-appreciated works, but it’s not by any means a lesser one. Coming between perhaps their absolutely darkest film, Barton Fink (1991), and their highly regarded Fargo (1996), The Hudsucker Proxy has become somewhat lost in the shuffle. That’s too bad, since this comedy-fantasy—done in a style that recalls both Preston Sturges and Frank Capra—is a very rich, very accomplished work. It’s both a parody and a celebration of the basic American success story with its tale of Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), the ultimate specimen of the boobus Americanus, who is used by evil corporate heads (specifically, Paul Newman) and a worldly-wise reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh)—only to emerge victorious in the end. It’s somewhat odd in that it’s a 1940s-style movie set in 1958 and made in 1994, but that’s part of its quirky charm. Overall, it’s kind of a combination of Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) as might have been done by the more satirically minded Preston Sturges—or as the Coens imagine Sturges would have done it. (In this regard, it’s almost a template for their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which creates their version of the movie that the director in Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941) wants to make and never does.) All in all, it’s a lot better and a lot more central to their work than its relative obscurity suggests.
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