When I first heard about Hail Caesar! I was psyched beyond belief. The Coen Bros were dropping a new flick and the cast was out of control. Clooney. Brolin. Scar-Jo. Jonah Hill. The trailer teased at the plot: A big-time actor (played by The Cloonster) in a period piece has gone missing and he needs to be found before the production goes belly-up. It was a implied promise that the Coens were harkening back to their Big Lebowski days: a surreal comedy where the main character, Josh Brolin, searches not to replace his rug, but to find his missing movie star.
The reality of the situation is very different. Brolin plays a big-shot Hollywood producer named Eddie Mannix and spends roughly 100 minutes playing 1940's celebrity Wack-A-Mole. Problem after problem after problem springs up and Eddie is the only guy who can fix them. The search for George Clooney is the A problem, but Mannix also devotes a substantial portion of his time to his B, C, and D problems as well.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that Hail Caesar! is very much a character-driven movie. And a little digging revealed that Eddie Mannix is based on a real producer. Apparently, the real Eddie Mannix was what they call a "fixer" in the biz. Basically, it was his job to keep the trainwreck that was most celebrity personal lives under wraps in order to maintain their clean image to keep the public adoring.
As it turns out, there were many, many, many, many nods to the Golden Age of Hollywood in this movie. Long song and dance numbers that (without this knowledge) seem shoehorned into the plot. A synchronized swimming scene that frankly ran on way too long even though my future wife Scarlett Johansson was splashing around with the best of them. It's no surprise that critics loved this one because it's a movie about movies.
The thing about movies about movies is that they are very alienating to audiences because while it's fun for filmmakers to turn the camera around and give us normies a glimpse behind the curtain, we also miss 75% of the jokes because "you had to be there."
This isn't to say that Hail Caesar! was a bad movie. It was very funny. Mostly because the Coen brothers take refuge in absurdity. Strange things happen in Hollywood and the brothers let moments land. There's lots of breathing room, which makes sense considering the plot is basically a loose collection of characters. There were also plenty dumb little visual jokes and audio gags that kept me smirking throughout the show.
Unless you're a huge Hollywood buff, I wouldn't bother schleping out to the theater for this one. Absolutely worth watching on Netflix/HBO Go/ Crackle though.