Archive for November 2009

A Serious Man – Review

November 18, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

Yet, I was nervous about seeing this film.  What if I liked it?  After all, following years of not understanding what on earth everyone saw in films like The Big Lebowski and Fargo, I actually liked No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading.  So, what if I liked A Serious Man?  What would I do if, so early in my blog’s history, I wrecked its premise by posting as many positive reviews as negative?  Perhaps more importantly, how would I cope on a personal level with the notion that my levels of general disdain might be waning?

Well, crisis averted.  I am thrilled to say that this movie is excrement.

The story is quite simple.  A middle-aged Jewish professor of Physics is dealing with an assortment of various ills.  He has a difficult student who is trying bribe him.  He has a sad-sack brother living with him who keeps hogging the bathroom.  His wife is in love with another man and wants a divorce.  His son is getting chased home from school by a bully who is trying to collect $20 for the pot he sold to him.  In order to cope he tries to see his Rabbi. There are some other things too, I guess.  I don’t know.  I’m bored just writing about it.

To be fair, the Coen Brothers do once again demonstrate their uncanny ability to capture a highly original aesthetic, both visually and in narrative form.  Unfortunately, they have, once again, captured an aesthetic that doesn’t interest me in the least.  More than anything, they seemed to want to capture the frustrating mundane-ness of the protagonist’s life, even in crisis.  And they succeeded.  Unfortunately, that just meant that the film was frustrating and mundane.  Nothing much really happened.  It wasn’t clear what really even could happen.  And I wasn’t sure why I should care.  Everything just felt suffocatingly blah.  Again, I think that was kind of the point.  Again, I’m not interested – I’m not sure that an accurate representation of blah-ness is anything that film-makers should even try to achieve.

Throughout, there were bits of what I guess were supposed to be funny moments, most of them revolving around various aspects of Jewish culture.  So, naturally, my first assumption was that I didn’t get it because I’m not Jewish.  But that explanation doesn’t work.  With the possible exception of African American culture, I could argue that Jewish culture is part of the very foundation of U.S. comedy.  Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Ben Stiller, Woody Allen, I could go on and on with examples of recent comedy stemming from Jewish culture that is simply hilarious.

But instead of making me laugh, this movie just bored me.  I have a terrible habit of falling asleep for about twenty or so minutes during a movie, and sometimes it can be quite frustrating.  But while watching this movie I was thrilled with the brief respite – rather than sit up and try to force myself to wake up I leaned back in my chair, got comfortable, and tried to ride my fatigue as far as it would carry me.  When I woke up I wasn’t disappointed to have missed part of the movie, but was instead disappointed that I hadn’t missed more.

Perhaps I wasn’t able to sleep as much as I wanted to because I was so excited to know that the world makes sense again: my opinion of the Coen Brothers doesn’t have to undergo the radical change that I feared, my distaste for movies is still in full gear, and my capacity for disdain is as healthy as ever.  Maybe in my next post I’ll explain why The Big Lebowski is an over-rated pile of dung as my way of thanking the Coen Brothers for all that they’ve done for me.

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