REEL Review – Hollywood (2020)

Creators: Ian Brennan, Ryan Murphy | Runtime: 44-57mins (episode) | Drama

A group of aspiring filmmakers, in post-World War II, try to make it big in Hollywood. When they decide to make a movie that could change the social landscape, each person faces serious pushback on their careers and their lives.

Hollywood history is now full of landmark stories that echo it’s acceptance (or lack there of) of change – Hattie McDaniels winning Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, the introduction of Blaxploitation cinema, or even more gay-focused narratives like Boys in the Band (1970). But what Brennan and Murphy’s Hollywood attempts to do is rewrite the history, incorporating both real and fictional figures in an attempt to change Hollywood for the better in the late 1940s.

The new Netflix mini-series sits at 7 episodes, giving us the scandal fuelled rise of it’s bright-eyed cast, while also giving us a level of world-building for it’s fictional setting. The first episodes are really about Jack Costello’s search for fame, as well as the decisions he has to make to get there. But as all the characters come together eventually to make a team of sorts, the show really picks up energy in the bulk parts of it’s 7 episode runtime.

In all honesty the biggest problem this show has is in one of it’s leading men, Jack Costello (David Corenswet). Visually he belongs to a Golden-Age Hollywood, but his story is weaker than the socially charged message of the show. He has a wife to care for despite not loving her, a pair of twins on the way, all while trying to make his dream. But, he’s selfish, not flawed like all good characters but outright irredeemable, to which he is gifted nothing but success. It really doesn’t seem like a big deal when you understand the shows motivations later on, but it really does sink your interest in the character.

Luckily though the show redeems itself with wonderfully built characters throughout, Archie (played wonderfully by Jeremy Pope) is a charismatic and head-strong screenwriter who is in search of equality and individuality. Joe Mantello gives the performance of the show as Dick Samuels (as well as the scene stealing performance by Michelle Krusiec), a studio head looking to green light his own repressive thoughts, and even using real-life Rock Hudson to mesh it’s reality vs. fiction quite well. All of these stories culminate into their risky production of a film called ‘Meg’.

The show knows it must balance both the glamour appeal of it’s setting, but also the change that it so needed, and it does this consistently.

Meg’s production is where the show finds it’s most entertaining parts, using the ‘movie magic’ to bring to life it’s production, but it’s in the characters as well where the show is at it’s peak. With more backlash heading towards them, each character (except Jack) become even stronger in their integrity. Camille (played by Laura Harrier) loses that one-dimensional feel to her character and embraces the monumental change she is causing as the first black leading lady. Archie continues to thrive as a character with his layered personality, as well as small details coming to light that effect the world ever so slightly.

The show is actually full of small little gems to treasure in terms of Hollywood, Queen Latifa as Hattie McDaniels does wonders for the redemption of her mistreatment, as well as the already mentioned performance by Michelle Krusiec, who excels in highlighting the talent of herself and Anna May Wong respectively. The show knows it must balance both the glamour appeal of it’s setting, but also the change that it so needed, and it does this consistently.

But Hollywood does leave a slight bittersweet taste in your mouth, tackling political issues that can’t even be solved today is a devastating reminder that, even for all it’s glits and glamour Hollywood is a darker place than you might think. Having said that the production is top quality, as well as most of the performances, and if you can forgive it’s topsy turvy arcs and somewhat forced romances, fans of the Golden-Age will surely be pleased.

Verdict:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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