The Coen Brothers’ filmography tends to swing wildly from lighthearted, goofball larks to existential nightmare tours of wounded psyches and uneasy human relations in a fallen world. (A good argument can, and has, been made that the two modes are in direct conversation.)
The Coen Brothers are the closest thing we have to existentialist filmmakers working today.
Before you dismiss this out of hand, consider the following. The Man Who Wasn’t There, probably their most underrated film, is essentially an adaptation of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” (at least as much as A Serious Man is a retelling of The Book of Job).
Given their frequent forays into philosophical contemplation and the various tantalizing Easter eggs sprinkled into their filmography for the devout, it’s sometimes overlooked that the Coen brothers are very, very funny. If you’ve forgotten, Hail, Caesar! is here to remind you – it’s the filmmaking team’s most explicitly comedic outing in years, and one of their best.
Juan Francisco Olea’s feature debut is a curious and not entirely comfortable mix of tones and themes. Is it a “black comedy”? That’s what the promotional materials promise. Yet it is never funny, although plenty bleak. It has moments of levity, but veers more towards an existential examination of doubt, faith, and action.