10 October 2009

Seriously, You Should See This Movie

Okay movie, take me somewhere unexpected. Come on, surprise me. Really, I don't at any time want to know where you're going. I just want to be along for the ride. Please, no formulas, no one dimensional characters. Give me a little depth. And leave me something to think about, to interpret. I'm a big boy, I can be left to decide for myself about the whys and wherefores. In fact, I insist upon it. You don't have to dazzle me with fancy schmancy special effects. I don't want hand held cameras and let's not overdo the odd camera angles. I want a story first and foremost and one that leaves me wanting more, not less.

If that's what you want out of a film I've got just the thing for you. It's the latest from the Coen brothers, A Serious Man. It's a movie that trusts you think for yourself. Hell, it insists upon it.

The cast is relatively unrecognizable, although many of the actors are of the I-know-I've-seen-him-somewhere-before variety. Trust me, the relative anonymity of the cast adds to the film's charm.

A Serious Man centers around one Larry Gopnik (Michael Sthulbarg) who we watch go through a series of episodes that would make Job weep. Wife, job, children, brother, health, money and legal issues all seem to be conspiring to bring this upstanding citizen down. He's really a likable sort. Not adorable, like too many film leads are, but someone who we empathize with and wish not the slightest ill will. He doesn't seem to be asking too much of life, nothing more than he's owed -- isn't that what we all want? Our just rewards? Don't you just hate it, seriously hate it, when the unexpected and undeserved gets in our way? Of course you do.

A young rabbi that Larry visits for counsel gestures out the window of his office and exclaims, "just look at that parking lot!" Of course.

Another rabbi tells a long story. Is there a point? Will it help? I better not say.

The third rabbi, the oldest and wisest is too busy thinking to deal with our friend Larry Gopnik. Oi vey.

Did I tell you Larry is of the Jewish persuasion. You guessed! And no, no, no, no you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the film, I'm far from, though it may (or may not help).

Our story is set in a Minneapolis suburb in 1967 which is as good a place to set such a story as any, don't you think? You wanted this thriving Jewish community in New York? Been there. Done that. You don't get cliches in A Serious Man. You don't get well trodden ground. All virgin territory. You should trust me on this.

Family. Such a blessing, such a curse. Larry's wife is unhappy with him and has found love in the arms of a long time family friend -- Sy Ableman. Fred Melamed plays Sy and I've got to dig into my adjective bag for him and say he's "fantastic." Not that anyone in the cast is lacking. Sy just shines. Larry has a daughter who just wants to wash her hair and a son who likes dope and F Troop and a brother who...

You know its hard to tell a heckuva lot more detail without getting into areas that viewers should discover for themselves. Suffice it to say you've got the music of the Jefferson Airplane, one randy neighbor and another quite Aryan neighbor (is he frighteningly so? You decide). You've got dental work, of sorts, dream sequences, a desperate Korean college student, physics. You have to have physics. You get a bar mitzvah and marijuana and hey how about if the twain meet? You've also got one of the best closing shots since 400 Blows (1959). You know what you've got here? A seriously good movie.

But, and again I'm totally serious, it's funny too. Not at all in broad way. You're not going to fall out of your chair laughing. Nothing silly. You'll smile a lot though. You'll think a lot too. It's very brave in these days of Transformers and Hulks and Spidermen to make a film that asks the audience to think. The Coens are nothing if not brave. These are serious men, or at least serious film makers.

(What, you're still here, you should go see it already.)


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Did you like Burn After Reading?

Richard Hourula said...

I thought it was just okay.

Kari Hermunen said...

I watched A Serious Man yesterday after having read your review some time earlier. I didn't know what exactly to expect. I have generally been a big fan of the Coen brothers, although there has been some variation about the quality of their movies. Well, who could get it right every time?

A Serious Man was, like you implied, something completely different from everything they have done before. A thinking man's movie. I am not at all sure I understood it correctly, but somehow "I haven't done anything" or "We haven't done anything" seemed to be a recurrent theme for the best part of the movie. So I felt it was about control of your own life or total lack of it. Toward the end there began to be some signs of own decisions, which left me with a hope for an optimistic outcome, although the movie ended without telling what was to come.

The fact that the story dealt with a jewish community, felt largely extraneous to me, since the issues covered concern everyone regardless of their faith. Still, it added an extra flavour. I don't have any jewish people in my circle of friends or acquaintances, so my knowledge of their habits and beliefs are based largely on books and movies. I know how horrible it must sound, but I was raised to believe that all gypsies were thieves and the jews were greedy people after your money in perhaps more subtle ways. In spite of my upbringing I ended up being quite liberal and unprejucided, I think...

But back to the movie, still on a jewish note! The third rabbi mentioned Jorma Kaukonen when he returned the transistor radio (? - not an iPod surely!) to the son after the bar mitzvah. Being a Finn such a name caught my attention. I had a vague idea that Jefferson Airplane had a musician with a Finnish name, but since I'm more inclined to classical music, I was a bit nonplussed. So, after the movie, the Wikipedia! And, lo and behold, if Jorma's mother wasn't jewish! Still, I wonder if the rabbi happened to listen to the radio while J.A. were playing, and therefore gave his blessing to the apparatus, or how would he know that kind of artist by the name at all!

Enough blubbering about the jewish aspects of the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to everyone.