The Hudsucker Proxy

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Hudsucker Proxy Movie Poster Image
Dark Coen Brothers screwball comedy has suicide, smoking.
  • PG
  • 1994
  • 111 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie is both a parody and celebration of the "screwball comedies" of the mid-20th century. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are parodies of the kinds of characters seen in the fast-talking comedies of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Some characters commit or attempt suicide. 

Violence

Man jumps out of a top-floor window in a skyscraper, falls to his death. Another character attempts suicide in a similar manner, but the windows have been replaced with plexiglass. Characters get punched. In a newspaper office, a male reporter slaps the rear end of a female reporter; she responds by punching him in the face.

Sex

Dream sequence in which the lead character dances with a woman in a revealing leotard. 

Language

Infrequent mild profanity: "damn," "hell," "ass," "bastard," "t-ttie." Humor mined out of calling an as-yet-unnamed invention (the hula hoop) a "dingus." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent cigarette smoking, as well as cigar and pipe smoking. Main character is shown extremely drunk trying to order a martini in a "beatnik" bar. Alcohol drinking at parties. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Hudsucker Proxy is a 1994 dark "screwball comedy" in which a gullible mailroom clerk with big dreams is made CEO by the unscrupulous executives running the company. One of the characters commits suicide by jumping out of the top-story window of a New York skyscraper. There are other attempted suicides at other points in the movie. There's quite a bit of cigarette smoking, as well as cigar and pipe smoking. In a newspaper editor's office, a male reporter slaps the rear end of a female reporter; she responds by punching him out. A character gets very drunk and tries order a martini. Infrequent mild profanity ("damn," "hell," "ass," "bastard," "t-ttie"). While the allusions to the movies of Frank Kapra and Preston Sturges are likely to go over the heads of most teens, the story and the overall style of the movie should still be enjoyable, particularly for those who are fans of the better-known Coen Brothers films. 

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What's the story?

In THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) has just arrived in 1950s New York City from Muncie, Indiana with a head full of dreams and in need of a job. After struggling to find work, he takes a job in the mailroom of Hudsucker Industries. Meanwhile, in the middle of a boardroom meeting with the executives, company founder and president Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) unexpectedly commits suicide by jumping out of a top-floor window. The company's bylaws stipulate that Hudsucker's stock must be sold to the public upon his death, so in order to get around that, the unscrupulous executive Sidney Mussburger (Paul Newman) comes up with a scheme to depress the stock value by bringing on an unknown and incompetent person to act as head of the company. Mussburger finds his man when Norville enters his office with an extremely important "blue letter" to deliver. Norville is soon set up as the president of Hudsucker Industries, but Mussburger's plans are threatened by the fast-talking muckraking reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), as well as Norville's own ingenuity when his invention -- a drawing of a circle intended to be a toy for kids -- becomes a nationwide sensation. As the success goes to Norville's head, Archer fumes, and Mussburger schemes for a way to fire Norville and take control of Hudsucker Industries. 

Is it any good?

This dark parody reveals that, even in the "lesser works" of the vast Coen Brothers filmography, there's so much to enjoy. While rarely in anyone's Top 5 Coen Brothers movies, The Hudsucker Proxy, a celebration of the "screwball comedies" of mid-20th century is as hilarious as it is knowledgeable of what made the movies of Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, and Howard Hawks work as pure entertainment. The wisecracks, the character types (Steve Buscemi as a beatnik bar owner, for instance, or John Mahoney as the editor in chief), the irony and the occasional silliness, and the lowest lows and highest highs of the last 30 minutes reveal a deep knowledge and appreciation of these movies. As the jokes rapid-fire one after the other, it's easy to become sucked into the exaggerated and self aware world the Coen Brothers have created. 

While one could argue that Tim Robbins doesn't quite pull off the "pure-hearted rube from the sticks" act, and that Jennifer Jason Leigh's Hepburn-esque (Katherine, not Audrey) affectations get to be a bit much, such arguments miss the point. These ironies and self awareness of the form are part of the overall enjoyment. Besides, it wasn't like great thespians landed all the roles in the screwball comedies of the past. It's not the best Coen Brothers movie, but it successfully conveys this idea of the screwball comedies that presented entertainment as a temporary respite from The Great Depression or World War II. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about dark comedies. What are some of the ways in which this movie finds humor in topics and behavior that aren't thought of as funny?

  • How does The Hudsucker Proxy parody the style and behavior of characters in the "screwball comedies" of the mid-20th century?

  • What are some of the ways in which this is reflective of the style of a "Coen Brothers movie?" What are some examples of other directors or actors known for having a distinctive style? 

Movie details

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