Saturday, February 13, 2010
A Seriously Depressed Man Indeed
I finally saw A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers today on DVD. I was excited to see the film. Despite how it flopped at the box office, I knew that didn't mean anything. I've seen the Coen Brothers films for years. I've been in many heated discussions about their virtues over many a glass of wine. I've defended their films, I go to the theater to pay my Mighty Dollar so they will continue to make movies.
What is that saying? Oh, yea.
The honeymoon is over.
I told myself I wasn't going to do it, but I did. I read A.O. Scott's review of A Serious Man online a moment ago. I wanted to see what he thought. I skimmed through it, but as I suspected, he gushed. Of course he gushed. To not gush about a Coen Brothers film and work for the NY Times is a sin punishable in a synagogue and/or Catholic church.
To describe the plot is to enter murky waters for there is no plot. A sweet man and his abusive wife, cranky kids, mean spirited neighbors and assorted cranky people live together in a suburb in an undefined part of America. The man in Jewish and is an outcast. Much of the film is told form the perspective of a Jew in middle America in the 60's.
That's it. There is no more.
For the 1 hour and 40 minute running time of the movie, we watch the sweet tempered and wonderful main character never live up to everyone's ideal of what makes a 'A Serious Man', aka, an interesting man, a driven man, a fascinating man, or (and this is possible since the Coen brothers are NY Jews and as such seem to be getting very very very cranky) a very boring man which is a mortal sin.
I have no idea what the movie is about. And neither do the Coen Brothers, which I find extremely annoying. In the DVD commentary describing what the movie is about and why they chose to tell this story and what the ultimate meaning of the film is, the two famous film making brothers casually sit back, simultaneously scratch their own heads and say, "Well, we're not sure what that means but we went ahead and put it in there. Seemed like a good place for it."
This kind of thinking is infuriating. And they know it. This is smart-aleck movie making. They don't know why they do what they do, they just put it in there, it doesn't make sense to them, so they then put the responsibility on us to make sense out of something they don't even understand and if we don't get it then we don't get their film.
Look, I was willing to go with the vague Barton Fink references because the movie is oddly compelling. The ending is bupkis, no one knows what it means, the brothers refuse to say what it means (at least, in what I've seen and read they refuse to say) and again, the onus is on us to figure it out despite the fact they don't know what it means.
I realize A Serious Man is the kind of movie Serious Moviegoers will say they love and that I am too film illiterate or unevolved or uncreative to understand, to which I compassionately reply:
This movie is navel gazing and the only reason they can get away with making a movie that is this dull, unstructured and vague is because they are the all-mighty Coen Brothers. It kills me to type this, but the majority of the movies the Coen Brothers have been making for the past 8 or so years are becoming more and more obscure and more and more difficult to watch.
Again, this is not easy to type, but this is not a good movie. Sure, they have an uncanny knack for long, quiet spaces in movies which is wonderful. Yes, their way with actors is sublime. They get actors, they love actors. They love chewy words.
Some of the earlier scenes in the film are wonderful and hard to turn away from. Their love of the art of making movies is abundantly clear, so I have to ask - why defeat the entire work by making a movie with such a narcissistic, defeatist and plain dark ass boring story?
I am now of the opinion the Coen Brothers are so enclosed in their rarefied NYC/LA film making world they have no idea their movies are becoming less and less accessible.
I, for one, must now wait to get a sense of what their next movie will be before I go to theater.
I can't believe I'm writing this. This about the men who made Fargo and Miller's Crossing and Raising Arizona and Blood Simple and The Man Who Wasn't There and, yes, the half-baked movie The Big Lebowski.
Well, okay - Burn After Reading was a pretty damn good time. Okay. They did do that recently, but STILL...
You think I'm wrong about A Serious Man? A Serious Man made $10 million in America. $10 million. That's a great number but not a number that shows anyone went to it. I think that is saying something. I do. Not all box office numbers reflect the level of true interest in a movie, but in this instance, I feel this does.
What a sad day indeed. But the truth of the matter is the Coen Brothers are now making some very dull movies that everyone is telling them are good and they are not.
I'm pretty sure they don't want to hear this, but their true voice sings when they ride the tone of Millers and Arizona and Blood Simple and Intolerable Cruelty. That is the gold. Can I tell you how many people didn't like the end result of No Country For Old Men? Three sequences in that film were sterling. But in the end? Dark, dismal, evil and, well, navel gazing. Why did it do well in America? Pressure to see it and like it. But very few people I know 'liked' it. I am so sad.
I'm going to go cry now.