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Oct 26, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: A Serious Man

I'm not quite sure of how to do a proper review of A Serious Man. It would mostly consist of me using the words "alienated" and "confused," along with a thesaurus full of synonyms for said words, and perhaps some examples of why I felt that way. Instead, I've decided to do a live blog lookback, in which I attempt to recall what was going through my head at certain points of the film, using the minutes into the film as markers. Hopefully, this will give you some insight into how I felt watching the Coen Brothers latest opus.

0:02 - Well, that was an interesting fable. Always nice to see Picket Fences' own Fyvush Finkel getting work, if only because I like saying his name so much. It sounds like the name of a rabbit from some childhood story or something. Speaking of which, here's a fable I just found online that makes loads more sense than the one I just watched:
Some boys, playing near a pond, saw a number of frogs in the water and began to pelt them with stones.
They killed several of them, when one of the frogs, lifting his head out of the water, cried out:
"Pray stop, my boys: what is sport to you, is death to us."
See, that one actually has a meaning that isn't hard to infer, and it relates to my review of the movie.

0:07: Always nice to hear Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love." I know little of the band outside of three songs, two of which are absolutely brilliant ("Love" and "White Rabbit"), the third of which (yeah, yeah, Starship, whatever) is an absolute abomination ("We Built This City"). Anyway, here's a video for your enjoyment:

0:08 - Haha, listen to that! The first of 247 Jewish references/in-jokes that I don't get. Terrific! This is amplified by the fact that Mrs. Fletch and I are apparently some of the only goys in the theater. What's that? You don't know what a goy is? Have no fear - you'll hear the term 92 more times throughout the course of the film; plenty of time for you to pray to Hashem to have him help you figure it out.

0:12 - An Asian kid named "Clive?" I love it.

0:17 - So, the most famous person in this movie is Richard Kind? Really? I mean, I like the guy and all, and I'm not opposed to high-profile films starring relative nobodies...it's just shocking. Shows you the kind of pull (chutzpah?) the Coens have.

0:25 - Say what you will about the relative coherence/excellence of the Coens' collective films (I admire and/or love most of them, though I know they aren't for everyone), is there anyone out there that writes better characters, from their leads down to the bittiest of bit characters? I wish the entire film was about Fred Melamed's character, Sy Abelman; he's as hilarious as he is creepy.

0:42 - Whoa, scratch that bit about Kind - Adam Arkin just popped up, playing a lawyer. He's no Alan, but the man was the star of that medical show that aired opposite ER that nobody watched, Chicago Hope. Advantage Adam.

0:50 - There goes the audience laughing their heads off...at yet another character name. You'd think the name "Solomon Schultz" (or whatever the name was at the time) was Hebrew for "Poopy McFartyPants" and that I was in with an audience of five year olds. Don't mind me sitting here with a blank expression yet again.

0:53 - I have to give it up for the Coens: they kick ass at taking care of the little people that inhabit their films, and do an excellent job at bringing them back time and again, all the while doing it in small, subtle ways that don't make it feel like "The Judd Apatow Gang!" Eagle-eyed Coen watchers will catch both sympathetic Fargo schlub Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) and Barton Fink studio exec Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner, aka that guy that kinda looks like how Ebert used to look) during Serious.

1:02: OMG - even better. FF-UN potential member George Wyner pops up playing a rabbi. For those unaware, Wyner played the attorney to the former Mrs. Fletch in Fletch and Fletch Lives, which means that I will always welcome his appearance onscreen, even if he was an ass to Fletch. No familiar red Oldsmobuick in sight, however.

1:09: Is this film meant to solidify certain Jewish stereotypes? Am I supposed to sympathize with our protagonist, Larry Gopnik? Wikipedia talks about "his undeserved streak of bad luck." Say WHAT? Bad luck? The guy's a schlub, a ninny, a carpet for those around him to walk all over. I never once felt for his plight.

1:12: I must admit, I appreciated the full frontal of a certain female character. I did not see that one coming.

1:16: In a Jewish film littered with dream sequences, would it have been too much to ask for a Bill Lumbergh sighting? Yeeaahhhh....

1:24: Will Larry do the right thing? Will he get his tenure? Will his child be able to watch F Troop static-free? All these questions and more may or may not be answered, but I most certainly won't care. I've checked out, man.

1:28: I do have two burning questions, however (spoilers ahead). One, if the Gopniks' goy next-door neighbors are so anti-Jew, why do they live in a neighborhood seemingly dominated by them? Also, Larry's kid had his radio taken away whilst listening to "Somebody to Love." Later, the rabbi recites the lyrics and whatnot, referencing said song as if he knew the boy loved it and/or was listening to it. But this was pre-cassette tapes and pre-CDs; the boy was listening to a radio, and the Jeff Airplane song was long since over by the time the rabbi got his hands on the radio. What gives?

1:42: Cool - another ambiguous ending from the Coens. You know they're artsy because they favor endings that make little sense, leaving the audience to come up with their own conclusions for what they just saw. Here's what I saw: a bunch of random shit from their childhood that mattered little to me and made even less sense, featuring a protagonist that I wanted to slap in the face, along with a handful of colorful characters. But at least it all centered on a badass song, right?

Fletch's Film Rating:
"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."

Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie BlogsLarge Association of Movie Blogs

17 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: A Serious Man"

Univarn said...

Wow, that was just hilarious. Made my day, great post. Not sure if I should want to see this movie or not though after reading it :P

Books, said...

Hi! Fletch,
Now I'am thoroughly confused?!?...because I know three or four people who enjoyed this film.
Now the question for me is...To watch this film? or not to watch this film?...that is the question.
Your post is funny...and the music sound nice too!
Oh! by the by...I know The def...of Goy too!
DeeDee ;-D

Pat said...

Fletch -

Iliked it a lot more than you did (and my review will hopefully be up tonight), but I still laughed out loud several times reading this. As always, a very entertaining review.

I didn't really know what any of it meant either, but I enjoyed that aspect of it. To me, the ending was ominous and ambiguous in the same way as the ending of "No Country for Old Men." And although I'm not Jewish, I am old enough to remember the 60s well, so the set details (those wood-walled rec rooms! The portable hi-fi with the the album-stacking arm!)dressing, the TV reception problems, and so forth were all pleasantly nostalgic

And BTW, in between the 60s songs you know and the wretched "We Built this City," Jefferson Airplane/Starship actually recorded some other good songs. "Miracles," released in 1975 is my favorite -it's on their "Red Octopus" album.

Princess Fire and Music said...

I have to admit to not even having heard of this film before I read your post. Now I kind of want to see it, because even if the film itself disappoints I'll at least have your review to fall back on for entertainment.

Fletch said...

Univarn - thank you, my man.

To you, DeeDee and Princess Fire, I say "sure, go see it." It's by no means an awful product, and there's a good to great chance that you enjoy it a lot, like most have. It just didn't jibe with me, I suppose. I might like to see it again in the future myself.

Pat - glad it was entertaining.

At least in regards to the ending, I can claim to be consistent - I wasn't a fan of the No Country ending, either. At all.

I'm sure the attention to detail is fantastic; it looks like it, though I have heard that a few of the albums mentioned in the film (Santana, etc.) weren't released until 1970, with the film being set in 1967 (though I also have to wonder if people aren't taking that date solely from the calendar that appeared during the movie - have the Coens or production notes actually stated that it's set in 1967? Someone could've just had an old calendar up...).

Really, shame on me for not being familiar with more Jeff Airplane work. Considering the awesomeness of those two songs, I really should have gone back and listened to some of their early stuff by now. Shame of "classic rock" radio for not playing any deeper cuts as well, though...

Megan Carr said...

This one was rough. It's good to know someone else was thinking many of same things that were racing through my mind during this most perplexing film. Not my favorite, but technically and structurally awesome. Too bad the characters were so unsympathetic. I actually found myself wanting to actually see them all die in the end.

Fitz said...

I don't see how Larry was unsympathetic.

The audience I was in also said that, but stated that it was because of his "jew voice" so I just assumed they were twits and their criticisms invalid.

Fletch said...

Fitz - wow, that is some weak reasoning indeed.

No, my feeling of Larry being unsympathetic had nothing to do with his voice and everything to do with his actions, or rather, inactions. I find it very hard to feel (bad) for a character that might double as a carpet. Larry was walked on by all those around him and bitched and moaned (and sought spiritual guidance) rather than, you know, doing anything real about it. Put your foot down, man, and stop letting everyone shit all over you.

The Mad Hatter said...

So at first I thought I was well behind the curve in finally getting to see this movie on the weekend, but it would appear as though I'm only a week or two behind.

I dug this one a bit more than you did, but I think it's because after that weird-ass opening (wtf, by the way), I was content to sit back and just let it be.

I didn't really feel for his plight either, but on more than one occasion I could sympathize for his search for real answers when all he was getting was random babble ("But rabbi, what happened to the goy?" "The goy?...who cares??").

Loved the review style, but for me the stunt casting began and ended with Moist from Dr. Horrible turning up as a junior rabbi. I was waiting for him to ask Larry if he wanted anything dampened...or made soggy...

Fletch said...

Hatter - you know, the more I think about the movie and the more I read from others, the more I want to see it again. I'm pretty sure that the No Country-ish ending left me with a bad taste, but I'd like to sit down with the characters again and see if my opinion changes at all.

The Mad Hatter said...

@ Fletch... Don't rush it. If it comes into play at Oscar time, give it another look then. If not, wait until dvd.

It's happened to me loads of times. Hell there are movies I now consider classics that I outright loathed on first viewing.

Tom Clift said...

Man I actually LOVED this movie, but this review was pretty damn entertaining, and basically raised every problem I have with all the Coen's films (including this one).

They really don't seem to have any respect for the audience and just like to screw with people and then dump them with no satisfactory explanation.

Sometimes it works brilliantly. This is one of my faves of the year, and Fargo is brilliant (although it took me three viewings before I came to that conclusion)

Other times it just falls in a heap - I hated the ending of No Country as well. But I sort of loved the ending of A Serious Man (frustrating as it was)

Oh and HOLY CRAP THAT WAS MOIST?! I cannot believe I missed that

also this makes me wish I lived in the states and could have participated in this debate a month ago

The Mad Hatter said...

@ Tom... I think it took me about five viewings to finally fall for FARGO, so you're still ahead of the Hatter Curve.

T'was Moist indeed! I wonder if he should have consoled Gopnik with his tale of disappointment from going on a double date with Bait & Switch.

Fletch said...

I don't know what you two are talking about with this Moist business. Please enlighten me.

Tom, I'm right there with you on the No Country ending, but it's funny that you both mention Fargo - not only do I think it's one of their more accessible flicks, but it's pretty straightforward, with a very un-ambiguous ending, probably owing to the fact that it's based on real life (at least somewhat).

The Mad Hatter said...

@ Fletch... If you haven't already, get your hands on a copy of DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-A-LONG BLOG. It was what Joss Wheadon did during the writer's strike to keep himself entertained.

It stars Neil Patrick Harris as the titular doctor, Nathan Fillion as his nemesis Captain Hammer, Felicia Day as the love of both their lives, Penny, and Simon Helberg (the young rabbi in A SERIOUS MAN) as Horrible's partner-in-crime, Moist.

Fletch said...

Ahh, thanks Hatter. Yes, I never watched Dr. Horrible. I've never been a big fan of Whedon, and it was so severely hyped that I stayed away, assuming that it would never live up to the expectations set anyway. Perhaps one day...

Tom Clift said...

Yeah I would agree the Fargo is less ambiguous, but probably just as unsatisfying I suppose (basically everyone gets screwed over...)

I think the thing that sets it apart is that we actually have a sympathetic character in Marge who (for once) doesn't bite the dust.

If they'd made the movie today, they'd probably have fed her through the woodchipper as well

And I don't know how accurate this is, but I've heard from quite a few people that despite the disclaimer, Fargo is 100% ficticious

Also I love Joss Whedon