26 October 2009

Review: A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen's latest project, this year's hyper-Hebrew A Serious Man, feels more like a pet project of their collective nostalgia than a serious foray into constructive film-making to the (average) out-group spectator. Indeed, though my personal experience of the film cannot be considered totally a negative one, I did feel negatively as though I weren't a part of that Jewish club to whom the vast majority of the jokes and the truth-based humors of the film were being directed - for, it was at least clear to me as any film-viewer, that such fancies were the crux and cross of the film entirely. Not an ambitious film, designed like its predecessor to craft poetically a sermon about the delicate morality of men, nor a holy cajole like another from the brothers' oeurve, steamed to bubble and bounce in infectious smart; A Serious Man makes serious stock only in fitting itself slowly into the tight niche of the Jewish-American outcast, cuckold, and near-leaning misanthrope. Though such a directive be not necessarily a detractive one for an artistic work, as many successful pieces have operated from within similarly tight societal niches to draw a comparative spectrum from the pinhole (without sacrificing the dedication; e. g., The Godfather [1972]), in this case there is little to no illumination on the opposing wall and in-group quips smack too frequently of not-quite-overheard whispered exchanges - rather than fully eavesdropped assertions - to those on-lookers in the dark. And yet the kudos (somehow) be all in the visuals; sets, costumes, make-up, and lights alone as polished shine: stylized drabberies leadenly underscoring the miniature feints and foibles of the anti-hero's rather calamitous (if understatedly so) tumble towards the rim of the abyss - underscoring but not replacing - no, not replacing: not adequately, not nearly. Despite this tale's incontestable aesthetic, a gussied bird is still a bird and this A Serious Man, an ornithologist.

Grade: B-/C+.

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