Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Serious Man

So, here’s the thing…

I watched this movie like three weeks ago. I kept intending to write a review, over and over again. But, due to a mixture of business and laziness, it just kept not happening. So, as a way to make up for it, I’m going to write my version of a tribute to my favorite (and who should be everyone’s favorite) filmmaking team. Five hundred words be damned!

Not long after I really started to appreciate film as an art form I discovered the Coen Bros. They hit the scene hard with Blood Simple and just kept on hitting it over and over (and over) again. I kept asking myself: “When are they gonna give in? Every filmmaker makes one bad movie. But these guys just keep delivering solid f-ing gold!”

The running streak lasting nearly fifteen years and eight movies could take a man’s head off, it was just that awesome. And unheard of. Consistency of that quality is nothing short of superhuman.

Let’s take a brief look, shall we?

Raising Arizona – One could be tempted to use the term Magical Realism, before it was trendy. And who ever thought Nick Cage could be hilarious? Not to laugh at, but with.

Miller’s Crossing – Eat your heart out Coppola and Scorsese. Every piece of this movie makes you long for a time when filmmaking was this smooth.

Barton Fink – I don’t think even the Bros knew what they were making with this picture. It’s bizarre and terrifying. And John Goodman is a badass, through and through.

The Hudsucker Proxy – A live action film that looks and feels in every way exactly like an old Looney Toons episode? How the hell do they do that? “You know, for kids!”

Fargo – Black comedy has never been so hilarious. And black. Why Steve Buscemi never won an Oscar for this keeps me up at night.

The Big Lebowski – Some would call it their opus. I’m inclined to agree. There are no words to describe this movie. Either you’ve seen it or you’re not cool.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Not my favorite, but still a great one. If anyone ever doubted George Clooney’s ability for comic timing, watch this.

The Man Who Wasn’t There – Another incredibly bizarre contribution. But one that leaves you deeply disturbed and strangely uplifted all at the same time.

Then came Intolerable Cruelty, a Coen Bros take on a rom-com. Cute, occasionally funny, but not the type of stuff you’d expect from a power-house team like these guys. And what about The Ladykillers, you ask? To be honest, I’d rather not talk about it. Remaking a movie that wasn’t all that great to begin with into a movie that’s feels so overblown and lackluster… sigh.

Only to be followed up, three years later, by their adaptation piece, No Country for Old Men. They won a bunch of much-deserved Oscar’s for it. And it was a great film, don’t get me wrong. The complete lack of musical accompaniment can only be interpreted as sheer brilliance. But there was a hint of disappointment in the back of my throat. An adaptation, really? You guys are so capable of mind-blowing yarn-spinning of your own, why do you get all the attention for a story you didn’t make up?

Burn After Reading was overrated. Yeah, I said it. With a similar, comedy-of-errors feel that was so successful in Lebowski, it became clear they put way too much stock in the cast to carry the movie, rather than make up for it with the script.

But it’s okay. I still have faith. You know why?

A Serious Man.

And thus, we begin the actual review…

The thing about these guys that I’ve always loved and admired so much over the years is their capability to concoct such original material, so brilliantly and artfully conceived from start to finish, and yet so very recognizably theirs all the time. Brilliance like that doesn’t come along everyday.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to get a return to form for these guys. This is old school Coen Bros right here.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg - never heard of him? Me either) is a Jew living in sixties mid-west America. And his life SUCKS. That’s the story in a nutshell. Any more explanation would require lengthy description that takes up too much time.

The cast is filled with unknowns. A couple faces you might have seen on TV here and there. Uncle Arthur is played, wonderfully, by Richard Kind, also known as that guy on Scrubs and Spin City.

The dialogue feels like a warm blanket, familiar and free-flowing. Not to imply that the story is uplifting. It’s quite the opposite. However, you can’t help but smile when you hear that snappiness of old. The deconstruction of a man’s entire life has never felt so rhythmic and smooth.

I’ve read people saying that perhaps this movie was the most “personal” film the Bros have put out yet. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. They did grow up as Jews in sixties mid-west America. And maybe the scene where Danny, Larry’s son, stands on the stage for his own Bar Mitzvah, stoned to the gills, frozen and unable to recite the scripture is autobiographical. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. But who knows. Who cares?

The only thing I didn’t like about the movie was the opening scene. An older Jewish couple, somewhere in Europe, a long time ago, encounters a ghost, try to kill it, and get a curse put on their family. Or something. I think this was supposed to be the justification for Larry’s undoing. His family received a curse way back when. But it just felt disjointed. The Bros have never needed an otherworldly reason to make some epic black comedy before. Why would they need one now?

And make no mistake, this is an epic black comedy. Of biblical proportions.

So, anyway, go see it. Or wait for video. It’s not a big screen must. But it is still a must. And go see every other movie the Coen Bros have ever made, if you haven’t already. Because they are what good film is all about.

I heard through the grape(internet)vine that one of their later projects is The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. One of my favorite books. I’d rather they make something of their own, but if they’re gonna adapt a book, it might as well be one as good as this. And they’ll do it justice. The Coen Bros have proven that much at least.

God bless em.