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.


  1. I don't know, based on your blog site, you seem pretty cool to me.

    As far as the movie, the Coens rarely let me down. I will see this at some point. The trailer looks great.

  2. I haven't been the least interested in this movie. It seemed underwhelming from the trailer and I'm not a fan of lame (or rather unfulfilling) endings.

    I also agree with Rev. Phantom. I think you're pretty cool. :) And not liking a Coen Brother's movie? Well that doesn't make you uncool. I don't like most of their films. I get it, but just can't bring myself to kiss any of them like you said.

  3. simon zinc trumpet-harrisOctober 18, 2009 at 5:36 PM

    The Coen brothers are the most ludicrously over-rated film makers in the history of cinema.

  4. Rev -- I appreciate it. My interests (all of OUR interests here) are wide and varied, and thankfully unconventional.


    B-MB -- thanks, also. Perhaps like you, I'm not with the tide of Coen maniacs who seem to excuse or justify everything they do. And I'm no genius, either, but I think a film's ending is the hardest thing to do well. It's easy to set up and set up and set up. The more you set up, the more you have to pay off in some way.


    Zinc-Trumpet -- we live in a culture of "overration". Hard to know what's really good these days.

    Try Kim Ki-Young.

  5. I don't think anyone can be cool for too long. It's too hard to maintain. That's why Bruce Lee and James Dean died young. And if you don't die young you just get old, which we all know is way uncool.

    I'm not one to jerk off to every Coen Bros. film like all the self-serving reviewers you so aptly point out but I do like that they bring some pretty dark, funny material to the box office. Their last two movies had unsatisfying endings as well so I'm not shocked to read this one does too.

  6. Mark,
    It's really sad we never met during my six yrs in Melbourne when you and I went to the same Chinatown cinemas. We would have had the same lemonades, the same fresh air and the same clear heads (in other words I don't drink, smoke or do drugs either). And we could have slagged off our lame friends for their drugged out, wasted parties. Haha.

    There's a couple of Coen bros' films I haven't watched but of the ones I HAVE watched I still think their first, BLOOD SIMPLE, is their best.

  7. d -- you're right. The sparkle has a 'Use By' date.

    I have enjoyed several of their films, too, such as 'Blood Simple', 'Raising Arizona', 'Miller's Crossing', 'O Brother Where Art Thou'. I loved everything but the rotten ending of 'No Country' and quite enjoyed 'Burn After Reading'.


    Jack -- it is very sad that we never met. I'm sure we must have, literally, passed each other. I went to the Chinatown weekly from about '85 - '99. Sounds like we would have gotten along and slagged in tandem.

    'Blood Simple' is a great film.

  8. Thought I'd return to this post now that I've actually seen the film and just chime in that I hated it. I actually didn't quite know how I felt until the ending which was sort of like "fuck you for watching this." I have talked to a few people who claim to have enjoyed this and none of them could explain what A Serious Man was about beyond "I think you have to be Jewish to really understand it." Well, I think I get it, I just don't like it.

    And you're right, there's some greatness in this film, and some great set-ups, but when none of it pans out in a satisfying way it sorta feels like a kick in the nuts.

  9. d -- "fuck you for watching this" is being applied liberally recently in a number of Coen films. I agree that the ending is the least satisfying component.