When Hollywood’s Heyday Hits The Small Screen: A Review of Netflix’s Foray Into Movie Making History

The history of Hollywood has always been fascinating. What started out as an experiment to see if all four of a horse’s legs could leave the ground at the same time has expanded to be one of the world’s favorite pastimes. The industry has also gone through a lot of technological changes, starting out as little more than short clips that were only a few seconds long, and now including vast interconnected universes with multi-million-dollar budgets. Hollywood has always been full of glitz and glamour, creating world renowned stars that throw huge parties in their lavish mansions. But the industry has a seedy underbelly full of darkness, and this is where Netflix comes in.

The newest show created for the streaming platform, simply titled HOLLYWOOD (Netflix 2020), tackles the less magical side of stardom. It follows war veteran Jack Costello (David Corenswet) as he tries to make it as a movie star in post-World War II Hollywood. He quickly runs into a diverse cast of characters who are all trying to break into the Hollywood machine, each one with their own set of unique hurdles. Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) is an African American actress who has been pigeon-holed as a maid. Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) is a gay, African American screenwriter who is trying to break through stereotypes to show that anyone can write a story. Lastly, there’s Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), a half-Philipino director who is trying to break Asian stereotypes in Hollywood.

The show has a strong message behind it. Each character has their own unique challenge that they must overcome, whether it be from race, sexuality, or gender. Their fight to break into the complicated studio system actually creates some of the show’s strongest moments. Many of the characters give impassioned speeches about what they’ve had to overcome to get where they are, leaving nothing to the imagination in regard to what they’ve gone through. The audience knows exactly what kinds of injustices have happened in their pasts. Later on in the show, several of the characters are even attacked by the KKK, finding burning crosses in their yards and, in Archie’s case, even having a Molotov cocktail thrown through a window of their house.

Some characters have rather tragic backstories. African American actress Hattie McDaniel, who gives Camille acting advice, reveals that she was forced to wait in the lobby at the Oscars due to segregation, and was only allowed into the theater when she won. Even though she received filmmaking’s highest honor, studios refused to give her any meaningful roles, effectively stalling her career. All of these moments succeed in creating strong moments of passion and create some of the best moments in the show.

Three of the things that I immediately fell in love within this show were the cinematography, set design, and costumes. The show really does a fantastic job at immersing the audience into postwar America. The sets are immaculate and expansive, filled with the bright colors and fancy architecture of the 1940s. Each character drives a big, fancy car and wears the best fashion of the time. And, as a collector of nice hats, I have to applaud the show’s use of headwear, bringing together a wide array of hats from flat caps to fedoras.

The first thing the cinematography reminded me of was Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 remake of THE GREAT GATSBY (Warner Bros. 2013). It was stylized and exaggerated, perfectly creating a feeling of manic energy. It gives off a feeling of excitement as the characters try to change the face of Hollywood to make it a more accepting place. At other times, it seems slow and restrained to create a feeling of thoughtfulness that reflects on the more meaningful events of the show.

And this is the point in my review where it gets a little confusing. Up until now, I’ve been raving about the show. There are plenty of things that I love about it, and I definitely think it’s worth a watch. But it took awhile for me to get here. The show seemed a bit slow to really get me invested in the story. I had to watch several episodes before I really got interested in the story and really wanted to keep watching. It just didn’t seem to have much of a spark to make it great. There were times when the performances dragged a little, and the writing didn’t seem to be as solid as it could have been. The show has noble intentions of creating a message that needs to be heard, but there were moments where it just didn’t seem as strong as it should be.

This show is definitely fun and audiences should really give it a shot. It has a fantastic message, and there are parts of it that are truly fantastic. But overall, it just seems to be an average show. It’s fun and enjoyable, but there are parts that could be stronger. I do sincerely think that audiences should give it a shot and won’t be disappointed. It just might not be the pinnacle of modern television.  

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