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This week:
A Serious Man

Filthy says:
"Seriously serious bitter shit."

A Serious Man is really fucking unpleasant to spend time with in the same way as a meth-head trannie. It's pretty to look at and you want to like it, but it has almost nothing to say and it's pretty Goddamn loud and incessant in saying it. This movie is like some sort of dare by the Coen Brothers to see how far they can push a single note before an audience's teeth bleed.

What you get in A Serious Man is a movie full of Coen fetish. On the plus side, it has perfect staging, setting, pacing, color and acting. On the bad side, it all sums up to a big, fat, rolling donut. It's based on an ancient story, that of Job, from the Old Testament. Job was a guy used by God and the Devil. God's all smug and thinks job's a righteous dude. The Devil says, "Nah, he's just being good because he's afraid of you." The Big Guy gives Dracula's pop the go ahead to see how far he can push Job to prove he's just decent for decent's sake. Like Virginia Woolf said, God doesn't come off too well. He's sort of a dick.

That's a pretty good premise for a movie, right? Seems like it would be to me, except for the fact that the Job character is pushed and pulled by outside forces and responds passively. He just keeps asking "Why?" The real problem with A Serious Man, though, is not passivity; it's that the Coens fuck it up beyond watchability by reducing every character to a sharp-focused, single-dimensioned asshole meant to bitterly and shallowly chronicle slights they remember from their childhood. The story-telling and the characters are paper-thin, more designed to bitch about the Coens' upbringing than relate the story of Job. Really, the movie adds nothing to the biblical story; it only places it in a 1967 Minnesota suburb and surmises that we're all fucked by forces beyond our control. Just like Job.

Michael Stuhlbarg plays the modern-day Job, a physics professor with a wife and two kids. He's a little uptight, Job-like in his upright standing, and, well, that's all we know about him. He isn't fleshed out beyond that. The Coens don't give a rip about him other than to put him through the paces, the way fourteen high-school football players would with a passed-out cheerleader. So, maybe they're playing God here. And they too don't come off too well. Not to say God would date rape a cheerleader, of course. But really, I don't know. I've never met him. At the least, he would let it happen.

In short order, Stuhlbarg finds his stolid middle-class suburban existence collapsing like a shit souffle. His harpie wife (Sari Lenick) ditches him for an unctuous lard-ass. His son is more into Jefferson Airplane and F-Troop than paying attention in class, and his abrasive daughter steals his money to save for a nose job. His next door neighbors are: anti-semitic macho hunters encroaching on his land and an estranged hottie who sunbathes naked. His brother is some sort of idiot-savant with a sebaceous cyst.

Besides the surprise divorce, Stuhlbarg is being bribed/blackmailed by one of his students, and someone anonymously is sending nasty notes about him to the tenure committee at school. He gets into a car crash, has to pay for the funeral of the man his wife was leaving him for, and is way overdue in fees to the Columbia Record Club, which he didn't even know he belonged to. It's a shitstorm of menial and major inconveniences. All of this drives Stuhlbarg to ask three rabbis what he should do. Like Job's friends, two give him hollow answers that are more about themselves than him. The other doesn't even give him the time. The reason is because, well, none of them have a fucking clue. Nobody does. The explanation is: God does what he wants, basically, and you can go along with it, or you can change your perspective until you find satisfaction. Nobody advises him to react.

Stuhlbarg keeps on the straight and narrow for most of the movie. Yet, the injustices pile up like free newspapers in the driveway of that house down the street that's starting to smell weird. No matter what, though, you're screwed. Finally, with financial and familial pressure, he accepts the student's bribe. And, he's still fucked. The point is, there are unseen forces out to screw you no matter what you do. No matter how clearly Stuhlbarg can define certainty in his physics class, it's meaningless because of invisible hands.

This conclusion is cute, not profound. That's especially true since there is little philosophically in A Serious Man that expands on what some dude wrote a few thousand years ago. All the Coens do is bring the story up to the 1960s and wrap it up in this fetishized version of what they remember as a shitty, suffocating childhood.

That is where the movie dumps its load on your face. Every character feels like a caricature of someone who crossed their paths. Insular to their experience and too much a stereotype to be relatable. Not a single character gets a soul or anything interesting to say. Nobody gets to have a house or an object that isn't either tacky or drab. Nobody, not even their main character, has a deep thought. In the Coens' world, they think they're the only people who have them.

The characters don't get to have a reason to exist or a brain in their heads that isn't singularly focused on being a dick. None of that is because the story needs it that way. In fact the story would be far more profound and enjoyable if the characters were deeper and yet shit still happened. It's because the Coens are whiny little bitches. Far more interested in the bitter little pockets of fat left in their heads since childhood than in giving us a rich or expansive experience. They aren't entertaining, they're complaining.

A Serious Man approaches grand ideas about certainty, control over destiny, the invisible hand that may or may not move us through life and the cost of assuming good equals complacent. But it doesn't have any more to say about the ideas than this paragraph, and less than Job. All the movie does is bring the concepts up and then filter them through weak, awful caricatures that reveal more about the Coens' smugness than the human condition.

I can't believe from my own experience that all Jews are as stereotypical as the ones in this movie. The movie is full of types you've seen before, but not in Isaac Bashevis Singer and Philip Roth stories. Think more like sitcoms and Chaim Potok -- cheap pop culture shit. In particular, any Philip Roth book is much deeper, more profound and funnier. His novels give a deeper understanding of Jewish feelings of persecution, paranoia and guilt. Hell, how many times did Zuckerman get acted upon by outside forces, like anti-semites and death-threaters?

The Coens learned little from Job. Their story starts with a drab man and ends with a drab man being fucked no matter what. It's a short trip, unpleasant and empty from beginning to end. Two Fingers for A Serious Man.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Sandie Newton of CBS-TV

Twilight Sage: New Moon is "More action. More romance. New Moon delivers a powerful and passionate punch!"

Old Dogs is "Laugh-out-loud funny!"

Filthy's Reading
John Ortved- An Unauthorized Biography of the Simpsons

Listening to
Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls and Marches