A Serious Man
Coen movies live near that line that separates the unlikeable characters who nonetheless hold your attention and the unlikeable characters who are merely unlikeable. There's something to be said for realistic portrayals of selfish, unpleasant people — and their tendency to proceed in their selfish unpleasantness unpunished — but "accurate" doesn't always mean "interesting."
So it is with A Serious Man, a story that shows some promise initially but never comes together, and ends up feeling flat and sour, like a mean joke that had to be explained. A handful of small moments work, but the movie doesn't stick with them long enough; it goes right back to sight gags, and to turning a few of the frumpier aspects of suburban/Jewish culture into punchlines, which is cheap and trite.
The accusation is often leveled at the Coens that they're cruel to their characters and exploit their frailties by mocking them. I've always thought this is too facile an explanation; A Serious Man, like Blood Simple and a couple of other Coen offerings, feels more underthought than anything, as if they tired of the idea in the middle of pre-production and didn't dig into the problems it presented. My evidence for that here is the prologue about the dybbuk, which seems intended to provide an overarching principle that just isn't borne out by the rest of the material.
A few tweaks here and there, and it could have done something fresh. As it is, the somewhat random collection of motifs is undercooked; the editing is too in love with moments that don't warrant its focus; Aaron Wolff, who plays Danny Gopnik, is a kid and a newcomer, so it pains me to say it, but he's bizzaaaaaad.
I count the Coens among my favorite filmmakers, but this isn't a Best Picture nominee, much less a contender. I suspect that's a "past masters" nomination, which is fine, but the screenplay nom is mystifying; it's a second-year-film-school cynical pastichey mess. Skip.
Death Race 46, Sarah 12
Tags: Aaron Wolff movies Oscars 2010 Death Race The Coen Brothers