Sunday, October 18, 2009
An Uncool Take on A Serious Man
I'm not "cool" in any way, and I don't appreciate the modern bastardization of the word, either. I don't drink, have never been drunk, don't do drugs, and don't smoke. I eat oatmail with blueberries for breakfast, detest night clubs, despise people who text or surf during movies (they should die!), and I'm disappointed by 90% of the parties I reluctantly attend. In fact, whenever I hear the word "party", I want to reverse a week's worth of digestion. To the Uncool like me, "partying" is an aimless, pathetic, brainless form of sub-human behavior that exists at a level three steps lower than the one amoebas occupy.
It is highly probable that my lack of coolness caused my lack of predisposition towards the Coen Brothers' latest, A Serious Man. The film has been universally praised, deified, and canonized. Some reviewers, to be fair, have cut their fourth star in half. I guess they want to kiss the thing with added tongue, but they don't want to grope its lower regions simultaneously.
I don't want to kiss A Serious Man, but I'm happy to shake its hand.
The film's trailer IS the movie, and it's a damn good trailer, too. Using the audio from a short scene in which the film's unfortunate hero, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), is slammed repeatedly into a wall, the trailer tells us that Larry is going to harassed by his wife, his students (he's an educator), his wife's new partner, federal agents, and his own children. And that's exactly what happens in the trailer's extended cut, the movie itself.
Most of A Serious Man focuses on Larry's worsening situation. The performances are excellent, with many verging on the grotesque. Roger Deakins' cinematography is muted and effective, with no inappropriate visual fireworks. The Carter Burwell score is unintrusive and helpful. On top of all that, there are many beautifully realized scenes that are funny and ironic and clever. Still, the third act has a wrong-headed curtain closer.
In the last fifteen minutes, everything is coming to a head. Stuff needs to be resolved. I won't describe what stuff that is because you may want to see the film, but, trust me, poor Larry's lot is not getting any better.
When a resolution (of sorts), does come, it's like a mist of bug spray. It hovers for a moment, then settles, killing the little winged fuckers beneath it. With barely a whimper.
The Coens' No Country For Old Men ended with a whimper, too, and I didn't like it. I know the book ends that way (I've read it), and I accept that it's true to the book, but I didn't like it as a viewer. It didn't feel like cinematic closure (and that's point). For me, a film has to end with emotional satisfaction (for me) in order for me to want to embrace it and apply a French kiss.
A Serious Man's resolution was a serious issue for me. Larry's son goes to visit the elusive Rabbi Marshak (great performance by Alan Mandell) and gets a life lesson that is meant to explain everything we've just seen. Well, it felt like a cop-out to me. An easy way out. The Coen boys were happy to fill their film with terrific set-ups, but they weren't so happy to resolve them in a way that would satisfy an uncool movie viewer like me. What Rabbi Marshak says is true and funny, but it wasn't enough. Don't set a house on fire and expect me to like that you put it out with a fart. Farts aren't funny enough for that to work.
As the credits rolled, I sat there lathered in bug spray and drove home feeling very uncool about not wanting to kiss A Serious Man with as much passion and tongue as others have.
Since I never had any, I don't risk losing any cool points telling you this.