Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Serious Man: MidWestern Woody Allen

The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man is a clever, cute but ultimately disappointing film from this highly creative duo. There is little enlightening or new in this comic tale of Jewish identity crisis except its location.

It’s set in a suburb like St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, Minnesotawhere they grew up. That is its main original feature. It’s 1967 but feels more like 1957, except for sex and pot in the suburbs.

Larry Gopnik, played capably by unknown Michael Stuhlbarg, is a Physics professor who specialises in the Uncertainty Principle. “It proves we can't ever really know... what's going on.” Larry is haunted by his unsatisfactory home and work life. His dreams are even worse than his reality if it’s possible.

No matter how well crafted this movie is, I’m over the Jewish male searching for the meaning of life in his religion and his dysfunctional family. Woody Allen has done it to death. At least we are spared his typical family dysfunctionality where mother or mother-in-law is the prime target of ridicule. This time it’s the wife and children. And the rabbis who give us theology according to Jefferson Airplane .

I’m over stereotypical rabbis who are as helpful as Tony Soprano’s therapist. . Over situation comedy that relies on absurd coincidence or un-empathetic characters. Over lines like, “There’ll be no nose jobs in this family!” Over perving on the sunbaking neighbour. And over the eccentric Uncle Arthurs of this surreal world. The sole representative Goy is the menacing redneck next door. Unless you count the parable of the Goy’s teeth.

There is a self-contained folk tale in Yiddish as a prologue. According to the Coens, it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Just a self-indulgence like much of what follows. The twisted ending calls out for real irony. Perhaps I missed it.

Most fans of Joel and Ethan Coen will enjoy A Serious Man. Go along and share this tortured view of life but don’t expect one of their greats. This strange exposition of Jewish subculture doesn’t break enough new ground.

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