Mike and I have a theory about Coen Brothers films – only the even ones are very good. The others aren’t bad – they just tend to be a bit weird. I’ve never really tested this theory, but let’s give it a go.
So working backwards, here’s a list of their films (excluding shorts) courtesy of imdb.com:
- A Serious Man (2009) (written by)
- Burn After Reading (2008) (written by)
- No Country for Old Men (2007) (screenplay)
- The Ladykillers (2004) (screenplay)
- Intolerable Cruelty (2003) (screenplay)
- The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) (written by)
- O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) (written by)
- The Big Lebowski (1998) (written by)
- Fargo (1996) (written by)
- The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) (written by)
- Barton Fink (1991) (written by)
- Miller’s Crossing (1990) (written by)
- Raising Arizona (1987) (written by)
- Crimewave (1985) (written by)
- Blood Simple. (1984) (written by)
Hmm, so my favs are 2, 7 and 9. I quite like 10 and 13, and of course 8’s got quite a cult following. But I guess the theory’s just been rubbished. The one thing that does still apply, though, is that their films are split into two very distinct category’s. There’s the quirky, funny, slightly unconventional ones, like Burn After Reading or Fargo. And there’s the odd, uncomfortable, breaking all conventions ones, like No Country for Old Men. The one thing they all share is very unique and well defined characters. George Clooney in O Brother, Frances McDormand in Fargo, and Javier Bardem in No Country. All very memorable characters, whether likeable or not.
A Serious Man has one of those characters. Several in fact. And it is definitely quirky and funny, but also uncomfortable and breaking many conventions. To explain would be to spoil it. But lets just say it starts and finishes oddly.
In fact to explain much more about the film would spoil the few really good elements. Briefly then: the main guy, Larry, is struggling with his life, family, work – the usual. He needs good advice and struggles to find it. Strange situations ensue, such as the particularly irritating moment when his wife’s new ‘companion’, Sy, grips Larry in a tight bear hug to comfort him about the divorce Sy’s caused. It’s weird and annoying. But also strangely amusing.
There’s moments of Coen magic, but all in all it left me feeling mildly indifferent (not very indifferent or passionately indifferent – you can only ever be mildly indifferent). I enjoyed the film, but couldn’t honestly recommend it except to hardcore Coen fans or film buffs. And I’d even warn them that it’s probably not what you expect.
I’ve probably put you off by now, very possibly made you curious enough to see it. Hopefully made you interested enough to read a bit more about it. If so, check out Rotten Tomatoes for a variety of reviews, or this article on The Guardian about ‘weird one-offs’.
Or check out this trailer, which is strangley appropriate for the film…